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New psychotherapy could treat majority of eating disorders

A new form of psychotherapy could be used to treat the majority of adults with eating disorders, latest study results suggest.

Based on a form of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) used to treat adults with bulimia nervosa, the ‘enhanced’ form of CBT - known as CBT-E – can also be used to treat adults with atypical eating disorders, a combination of bulimic and anorexic-type symptoms.

According to researchers from the Wellcome Trust – who developed the psychotherapy – CBT-E has the potential to treat more than 80% of cases of eating disorders in adults.

The researchers studied 154 adults with either bulimia nervosa or atypical eating disorders, who received weekly 50-minute counselling sessions for 20 weeks.

Patients received either a simple version of CBT-E – focusing solely on the eating disorder – or a more complex version that also addressed problems such as low self-esteem.

The researchers found that the majority of patients responded ‘well and rapidly’ to both forms of the therapy, and that changes were sustained over the following year, when relapse is most likely.

Around two-thirds of those who completed treatment made a ‘complete and lasting’ response, with many of the remaining third showing substantial improvement, the researchers said in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

Lead researcher Christopher Fairburn, professor of psychiatry at Oxford University, said: ‘Eating disorders are serious mental health problems and can be very distressing for both patients and their families.

‘Now for the first time, we have a single treatment that can be effective at treating the majority of cases without the need for patients to be admitted to hospital.’

The researchers are currently investigating the effectiveness of CBT-E as a treatment for anorexia nervosa.

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