May 7, 2021

Complete Guide to Family Based Therapy for Eating Disorders

Family Based Therapy for Eating Disorders

In this blog, I will review family based therapy for eating disorders. This blog will define family based therapy, list the phases of family based therapy, discuss how family based therapy interacts with different eating disorders, and list out the benefits of family based therapy. My goal is to provide knowledge of this treatment option and how it can be a great choice for individuals struggling with eating disorders, specifically anorexia nervosa.

What is Family Based Therapy?

Family based therapy, or Maudsley Approach, can be summed up as an intensive outpatient treatment where the parents or guardians of the child play an active role in their child’s recovery. 

“Traditional” treatment of Anorexia Nervosa and other eating disorders suggests that care should be individually based. Traditional views suggest that parents’ involvement in recovery range from unnecessary to interfering with recovery. Parents are often seen as part of the cause or reason their child suffers from an eating disorder. The Maudsley Approach opposes this idea that parents should be blamed for development. Instead, parents are considered a resource and essential part of successful treatment.

Phases of Family Based Therapy

There are 3 phases to Family Based Therapy. Generally, treatment lasts about 12 months and is conducted within 15-20 treatment sessions. According to, The 3 phases of family based therapy are:

  1. Weight restoration
  2. Returning control over eating to the child
  3. Establishing a healthy adolescent identity

Let’s explore each of these 3 phases of treatment:

1) Restore the child’s weight back to normal levels for their age and height

Phase 1 focuses on helping parents take control of weight restoration processes. The family receives a high level of support and instruction on how to implement this phase of treatment.  

This phase is generally about 8-10 weekly sessions but can be longer.

2) Hand control over the process of eating to their child

Phase 2 focuses on helping the adolescent to eat independently.  Parents slowly transfer food and weight control back to the adolescent with the guidance of Dr. Boyers.  Typically, the frequency of sessions begins to decrease in this phase of treatment.

3) Encourage normal adolescent development through an in-depth discussion of these crucial developmental issues as they pertain to their child.

Phase 3 focuses on helping the adolescent fully re-engage in his/her life and address appropriate developmental tasks.  In some cases, the adolescent may choose to continue their psychotherapy beyond the Phase 3 sessions to address issues outside the eating disorder that may still require some attention.

Eating Disorders Treated By the Maudsley Approach

The maudsley approach was specifically designed as a therapy method of treatment for anorexia nervosa. However, it has since been adapted to treat other eating disorders. I highly recommend this treatment option for anorexia nervosa, but may recommend other treatment methods for other eating disorders. 

Anorexia Nervosa

As mentioned above, Family Based Therapy was designed specifically for anorexia nervosa. 

Family based therapy for anorexia nervosa empowers parents to take control of their child’s eating habits to halt starvation and properly refeed their children to a normal weight. After a normal weight has been achieved, power is given to the child to take control of their eating and weight independently. Finally, any lingering issues are addressed. Furthermore, psychotherapy may still be needed beyond family based therapy for anorexia.

Learn more about anorexia nervosa treatment. 

Bulimia Nervosa

Family based therapy for bulimia nervosa allows family members to openly discuss the restrict-binge-purge cycle in a safe environment so that patterns and triggers can be identified. Parents are empowered to interrupt their child’s cycle by providing well-balanced meals and snacks so that the child is always well-nourished. After a consistent pattern of eating regularly for a period of time has been achieved, power is given back to the patient to eat on their own. 

Learn more about bulimia nervosa treatment.

Binge Eating Disorders

Family based therapy for binge eating disorders positions parents in a place to help their child stop dieting and establish patterns of consistency in eating balanced meals and snacks at regular intervals. Parents can help their child resist urges to binge eat by supporting, soothing, or distracting them. 

Learn more about binge eating disorder treatment.

Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder – AFRID

Family based therapy for ARFID positions parents to help their child overcome food restrictions and avoidances. For selective eaters, parents will work with a psychologist to gradually expand their child’s variety of foods eaten. For children who have lost weight due to ARFID, parents work with a psychologist to empower their children into increasing their caloric intake.

Learn more about ARFID treatment.

Advantages of Family Based Therapy

I believe there are several advantages of family based therapy. One of the main benefits is that it allows your child to stay home rather than be enlisted in a residential treatment center, which could be far away from your location. 

Another major benefit of family based therapy is that because the family is fully involved in the treatment process, family members have acquired skills and understanding of how eating disorders work when they are confronted with symptoms. When your child arrives home from a treatment center, there is a tendency to regress as they are exposed to triggers in their lives. With family based therapy, these triggers are reduced because patients have already been confronted with these triggers in their home environment. 

Finally, family based therapy is much more affordable than residential treatment. Residential treatment can be extremely expensive for those whose insurance does not provide residential treatment benefits.

Get Family Based Therapy in Miami, FL

A full recovery is within your grasp. Eating disorders are serious and require immediate help from a knowledgeable professional. Fortunately there is hope! Family based therapy is a great treatment option for eating disorders, specifically anorexia nervosa treatment.

I’m Dr. Amy Boyers, a Clinical Psychologist in Miami who specializes in the treatment of eating disorders (all types) and other serious, long-term mental health conditions, including addictions, bipolar disorder treatment, and OCD. I offer personalized and sophisticated eating disorder treatment services, individual and family psychotherapy, family member support and education, in-home meal support, coordination of a treatment service, and much more.

Have you asked “Do I have orthorexia nervosa? I’d be happy to help you answer that question. Simply reach out to me and I’ll be sure to answer anything you want to know.

I look forward to helping you obtain a brighter tomorrow.


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Dr. Boyers is currently available for second opinions and consultations only. She is not available to take on therapy cases at this time but is willing to provide a consultation and help you find an appropriate team or resources in the community.