The Royal Children’s Hospital’s (RCH) Centre for Adolescent Health commenced ‘family-based treatment’ for anorexia in 2008 and already admission rates have dropped by 56 per cent.
“Before, we were not really focused on cure because we saw that so infrequently for those who were very unwell. Cure is now completely expected,” says Professor Susan Sawyer, Director of the RCH Centre for Adolescent Health.
The revolutionary treatment involves empowering parents to form a key part of the healing process. Parents are encouraged to actively engage in their child’s refeeding at home by supervising every meal, even if this takes hours of support and encouragement.
The idea is to create an understanding and dialogue within the family unit that externalises the disease – families affirm that it is “the anorexia” that is preventing the teenager from eating or compelling them to exercise or purge; the teenager themself is not to blame.
Whilst the program is intensive, it is achieving remarkable results. Many teenagers are weight restored within six months.
RCH clinical nurse consultant Stephanie Campbell says it is important to deal with the weight first, as this will improve a patient’s mental health.
“It’s all about weight restoration. It’s getting the parents on board and empowering them to refeed,” Ms Campbell said.
“At the beginning patients will say that 80 to 90 per cent of my thoughts are about eating or food, it’s all consuming. And at the end of the six months, they’ll say maybe 10 per cent,” she said.
Traditional treatment of anorexia was a revolving door of patients being admitted to hospital, fed with supervision from a clinician or through a nasal gastric tube, then sent home for outpatient psychological treatment. The patient would invariably be readmitted to hospital numerous times a year with recovery taking an average of seven years.
Family-based treatment has seen readmission rates at the RCH drop 75 per cent with 97 per cent of those who complete the program recovering fully.
The program is supported by a grant from the Baker Foundation, with $3 million in recurrent funding promised by the state government in the 2010 election.
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