Cognitive behaviour therapy for adolescents with eating disorders: An effective alternative to the disease-based treatments

Riccardo Dalle Grave, Simona Calugi


Several clinical services offer eclectic multidisciplinary treatments with no evidence of efficacy and effectiveness for adolescents with eating disorders. These treatments are usually based on the ‘disease model’ of eating disorders. The model postulates that eating disorders are the result of a specific disease (i.e., anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa or other eating disorders), and patients are considered not to have control of their illness. Therefore, they need the external control of parents and/or health professionals. In this model, the patients adopt a passive role in the treatment. On the contrary, enhanced cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT-E) for adolescents is based on a ‘psychological model’ of eating disorders. Patients are helped to understand the psychological mechanisms that maintain their eating disorder and are ‘actively’ involved in the recovery process. Clinical studies showed that more than 60% of adolescent patients who complete the treatment achieve a full response at 12-month follow-up. The treatment is well accepted by young people and their parents, and its collaborative nature is well suited to ambivalent young patients who may be particularly concerned about control issues and for parents who cannot participate in all treatment sessions.

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