Relationship-Focused Psychotherapies for Eating Disorders Come of Age

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Abstract

This is a commentary on 3 case studies of relationship-focused therapies for eating disorders. The 3 approaches vary along a number of dimensions, but nevertheless share important similarities especially related to the role played by variables such as interpersonal problems and affect dysregulation. I briefly review research on interpersonal- and attachment-based models of eating disorders that provide the evidence-base for theories of therapy that are relationship-focused. The Interpersonal Psychotherapy case presented by Tanofsky-Kraff, Shomaker, Young, and Wilfley (2016) illustrates how a group context can facilitate change in key role disputes and role transitions in an adolescent at risk of developing an eating disorder later in her life. The Integrative-Dynamic Therapy case presented by Richards, Shingleton, Goldman, Siegel, and Thompson-Brenner (2016) is a novel sequential combination of cognitive–behavioral therapy followed by dynamic psychotherapy for a young adult with bulimia nervosa that likely reflects what most clinicians do in everyday practice. The Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy case presented by Lunn, Poulsen, and Daniel (2016) of a patient with severe personality pathology demonstrates how treatments for eating disorders sometimes must address complex attachment dysfunction, self-organization, and therapist countertransference in order to provide a useful therapeutic experience. Relationship-focused theories and therapies for eating disorders have come a long way over the past decades, thus providing therapists with a wider range of approaches that can be truly personalized to their clients.

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