Empirical Support for CBT and Family Based Treatment


Empirical Support for CBT and Family Based TherapyResearch on CBT

The UK’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidelines recommend CBT as the first-line treatment for adults with bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder and one of three potential treatments to consider for adults with anorexia nervosa.

One study randomly assigned seventy female patients with bulimia nervosa to either five months of CBT (20 sessions) or two years of weekly psychoanalytic psychotherapy.  After five months of therapy (the end of the CBT treatment), 42 percent of patients in the CBT group and only 6 percent of the patients in the psychoanalytic therapy group had ceased binge-eating and purging. At the end of two years (completion of the psychoanalytic therapy), 44 percent of the CBT group and 15 percent of the psychoanalytic group were symptom-free.

Another study compared CBT-E with interpersonal therapy (IPT), an alternative leading treatment for adults with an eating disorder. In this study, 130 adult patients with an eating disorder were randomly assigned to receive either CBT-E or IPT. Both treatment groups received 20 sessions of psychotherapy over a period of 20 weeks, followed by a 60-week follow-up period. At post-treatment, 66 percent of the CBT-E participants met criteria for remission, compared with only 33 percent of the IPT participants. Over the follow-up period, the CBT-E remission rate remained higher (69 percent versus 49 percent).

Research on FBT

Research has demonstrated that adolescents who receive FBT recover at higher rates than adolescents who receive individual therapy:

  • A study by the University of Chicago and Stanford shows that at the end of a course of FBT, two-thirds of adolescents with anorexia have recovered; 75 percent to 90 percent are weight-recovered at a five-year follow-up.
  • A recent study compared FBT for bulimia nervosa with CBT for Bulimia Nervosa. The results indicated that teens who received FBT recovered faster and substained their recovery.
  • Preliminary research and case studies also show that FBT is an acceptable approach for young adults.

FBT appears to be most effective for families in which the length of illness is less than three years. An early positive response to the treatment (commonly by week four) is prognostic of long-term successful outcome.

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