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Emotion coaching can help in treating anorexia nervosa

Alan Flurry

Important new research from the department of psychology about the role of parents in helping teenagers recover from anorexia:

University of Georgia psychologists and collaborators at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital have developed supplemental interventions to use in addition to family-based therapy (FBT) to treat teens with anorexia nervosa. FBT is the gold standard treatment for anorexia, but there is a subgroup of families that are ineffective.

“Family-based therapy involves a lot of participation from the parents. The parents take over control for deciding what the teen eats as long as they are acutely ill. Anorexia is not giving you the correct information about what to eat so your parents take that over during the recovery process,” said Anne Shaffer, associate professor and graduate coordinator in the UGA department of psychology. “As you can imagine, this is an emotionally charged situation. One of the things we found is the subgroup of people that FBT does not work for are those in which there is a lot of criticism or hostility expressed by the parents or very low support and warmth from the parents.”

The team uses a tool called a “five-minute speech sample” to screen families for hostility and criticism. The parents record a five-minute speech talking about their teen and their relationship with their teen. The researchers use a coding system to analyze the speech for warmth and criticism. If they score high on criticism, the team redirects the family to emotional coaching.

“My research focuses on parenting and how parents respond to their kids’ emotions and talk to their kids about their emotions,” said Shaffer. “From that work, we developed some interventions to teach parents how to be good emotional coaches for their kids.”


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