Eating Disorders and Obesity: A Comprehensive Handbook

By Christopher G. Fairburn; Kelly D. Brownell | Go to book overview
Save to active project

Family Therapy and Eating Disorders



Clinicians have long believed that the family of the patient has an important role to play in a complete management plan for anorexia nervosa. During the early parts of the 20th century, psychological models of eating disorders were temporarily replaced by physical etiological models, but by the middle of the century, the tide had again changed and the patient’s family experiences were seen as having a pivotal role. Hilde Bruch, in proposing the importance of formative experiences in early mother–infant interactions, provided a major impetus for a family-based theory for anorexia nervosa. She suggested that, as a child, the anorexic patient’s needs received insufficient and inaccurate feedback from the mother. This led to poor development of the child’s interoceptive awareness, a distorted perception of self, and a pervasive sense of ineffectiveness.

Although these specific, clinically derived, theoretical conceptualizations have not been backed up by systematic research, a growing number of studies in the past 40 years support the general notion that family factors contribute importantly to the development and maintenance of eating disorders.

Accumulating clinical observations have been supplemented in a significant way by ideas and practice early in the evolution of family therapy. A number of influential figures in the family therapy field gave their attention to the treatment of eating disorders. Selvini-Palazzoli advocated a move from an individual therapy approach to whole-family intervention for anorexia nervosa, and Salvador Minuchin produced systematic clinical data to show the effectiveness of family therapy. The high level of prestige given to the observations of these two innovators gave great impetus to the application of family therapy to anorexia nervosa. This appeared to offer strong support to a specific belief about the etiology of anorexia nervosa in particular, and of eating disorders in general, a belief not confined to the adherents of the “family therapy movement”: The disorders were thought to originate in specific, pathogenic family processes. This was true despite the fact that Minuchin himself had drawn attention to a variety of factors other than the family processes that he had described as the etiological sources of anorexia nervosa.


Notes for this page

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this page

Cited page

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited page

Bookmark this page
Eating Disorders and Obesity: A Comprehensive Handbook
Table of contents

Table of contents



Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this book

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen
/ 632

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?