Self-Help Books in the
Treatment of Eating Disorders
JACQUELINE C. CARTER
Although psychological treatments with proven efficacy for eating disorders exist, they are not widely available to those who need them. In an effort to facilitate the dissemination of evidence-based treatments, researchers have recently begun to study whether the active ingredients of established treatment protocols can be translated into self-help formats, so that they can be used by nonspecialist therapists or by sufferers to help themselves. Accumulating research evidence suggests that a significant proportion of those with eating disorders respond favorably to self-help interventions. Most of the research to date has focused on bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder. Although self-help treatments for anorexia nervosa have not yet been studied, self-help is unlikely to be effective as a sole treatment for underweight individuals with eating disorders.
Self-help books may be used either by sufferers on their own (“pure” or “unguided” selfhelp) or in combination with guidance and support from a therapist who may, or may not, be a nonspecialist (“guided” self-help). Many self-help books are available for those with eating disorders. Since cognitive-behavioral therapy is the most extensively researched and well-validated treatment for eating disorders currently available (see Chapters 54 and 55), the focus of this chapter is on self-help books informed by cognitivebehavioral principles. Two such books have been published (see “Further Reading”).
In the community, pure (unguided) self-help can provide an accessible form of information and advice for individuals with eating disorders who might not otherwise have access to expert help, or who may avoid seeking treatment due to factors such as shame or embarrassment. In primary care settings, guided self-help may be a useful initial inter-