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BMJ Group Medical Reference


This information is for people who have anorexia. It tells you about psychotherapy, a treatment used for anorexia. It is based on the best and most up-to-date research.

Does it work?

Many different kinds of psychotherapy are used to treat anorexia, and they often seem to help. Family therapy may help when a child or teenager has anorexia. But much more research is needed to say for certain whether psychotherapy really works.

What is it?

Psychotherapy helps you change the way you think and the things you do. It can also help you learn ways to cope. Some therapies, like cognitive behaviour therapy, do all three. Other therapies focus on one specific area. Interpersonal psychotherapy is one example. You learn how to get on better with people.

You can learn to understand your thoughts and feelings by talking about them with a trained therapist. Your therapist could be a psychologist, a psychiatrist, a psychiatric nurse, a psychotherapist, or even your usual doctor. You'll usually see your therapist once or twice a week. You'll probably need to have psychotherapy for at least a year, if not longer. [28]

There are several kinds of psychotherapy. The ones listed below have been tested in at least one study with people who have anorexia.

  • Cognitive therapy helps you replace your negative thoughts with positive ones. It helps you change some of the things you do, and understand your feelings and get more control over them. One kind of cognitive therapy is cognitive behaviour therapy. Another kind is cognitive analytical therapy, which aims to help you think more logically and to get on better with other people.

  • Interpersonal psychotherapy helps you to look at how you get on with other people.

  • Family therapy helps children and teenagers with anorexia by enlisting the support of their family. Together, the family members focus on the eating disorder and how it affects their relationships. The parents take an active role in helping their child's efforts to eat.

  • Body awareness therapy helps you see your body the way it really is.

  • Nutritional counselling and stress management are often given together. You focus on food and how the body uses it, so you can learn the facts and stop believing old myths. You also learn good ways to handle your feelings when you're under stress.

If your body is starving and your weight is very low, your feelings and your thoughts can be affected. Your moods may be dark and change a lot, and it might be hard to think straight. Because of this, it's usually best to wait until you've reached a healthy weight and stayed there for a while before you start psychotherapy.

You can usually get psychotherapy on the NHS. Otherwise, it can cost you a lot of money.

To find out more, see What you can expect from the NHS.

Last Updated: September 19, 2012
This information does not replace medical advice.  If you are concerned you might have a medical problem please ask your Boots pharmacy team in your local Boots store, or see your doctor.

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