Child and Teen Eating Disorder Treatment–Family-Based Treatment (FBT)

Maybe your child or teen has been diagnosed with an eating disorder. If your teen has not been diagnosed, but you are reading this page, something is probably going on. You may recognize the need for your teen to gain weight but can’t figure out how to get them to eat. Maybe your teen is engaging in unhealthy behaviors–such as severe dieting, bingeing, purging, or excessive exercise–that you don’t know how to address. Maybe your teen is expressing very negative thoughts about their body. Or perhaps your teen is in an eating disorder treatment program that excludes you from the treatment altogether and you want to be more involved. You are probably feeling scared, confused, and overwhelmed.

The good news is that you can confront the eating disorder– as a family. We are specialists in Family-Based Treatment (FBT) for eating disorders. Dr. Muhlheim has written a leading book for parents on FBT.

Not only does this approach better empower you, the parent, it is actually the most effective way to tackle an eating disorder. FBT is the leading treatment for teen eating disorders including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and atypical and subthreshold eating disorders. It places you at the helm of recovery, driving your teen toward healthy eating and other recovery-consistent behaviors. In FBT you can lovingly help your teen recover at home. Often, you can avoid sending your child away to residential treatment.

Family-Based Treatment [photo descirption: drawing of teen girl eating and looking anxious while parents on either side lean in to support her. A dog and little brother are off to the sides]Family-Based Treatment was developed at the Maudsley Hospital in London, England in the late 1970s and early 1980s by Drs. Christopher Dare, Ivan Eisler, Gerald Russell, and George Szmukler. Dr. Daniel Le Grange and Dr. James Lock brought the treatment approach to the US and published the first treatment manual in 2002. An updated manual was published in 2015 and a manual for bulimia nervosa was published in 2009.

Family-based treatment (FBT) usually consists of 20 treatment sessions over a course of 6 to 12 months. In the FBT approach, no one is blamed for the development of the eating disorder. The symptoms are seen as outside of the child’s control and taking on a life of their own.

FBT is a promising alternative model to costly inpatient or day hospital programs. Research out of the University of Chicago and Stanford University shows that at the end of a course of FBT, two-thirds of adolescents with anorexia nervosa are recovered and 75% to 90% are weight-recovered at five-year follow-up. It has also been successfully employed with adolescents with bulimia nervosa and with college students with anorexia nervosa. It can also be adapted for young adults who have parents who can support them in recovery.


  1. Lock, J., Le Grange, D., Agras, W.S., Dare, C. (2002). Treatment Manual for Anorexia Nervosa: A Family-Based Approach. The Guilford Press: New York.
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