Psychotherapy approaches for adolescents with eating disorders

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Purpose of review

Adolescence is the most common period for the onset of eating disorders, and early intervention is critical. Primary care providers should feel equipped to discuss psychotherapy approaches for eating disorders with adolescents and their families and to provide appropriate referrals. The present review focuses on six prominent treatment modalities and the evidence supporting each approach.

Recent findings

Although the majority of studies about psychotherapy approaches for eating disorders focus on adult women, there is a growing body of research on effective treatments for an adolescent population. Family-based treatment (the ‘Maudsley method’) and supportive psychotherapy appear to be promising approaches for anorexia in teens. Treatments for bulimia yield extremely high relapse rates, but cognitive–behavioral therapy and family-based treatment are favored modalities. Dialectical behavior therapy and interpersonal psychotherapy may also be applicable to adolescent bulimia and binge eating. Most psychotherapists draw upon a variety of these treatment approaches, depending upon the patient's unique presentation. Regardless of the modality used, some degree of family involvement is important in limiting dropout and improving outcomes.


Adolescent health providers need to be aware of the psychotherapy approaches recommended for teens with eating disorders in order to effectively refer patients to and collaborate with mental health providers.

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