May 17, 2009 Jeanne Rust

Are parents to blame for eating disorders?

I saw a very provocative article on a blog on the Huffington Post.  It was written by a woman named "Laura", who talked about how so many health care professionals want to do parent-ectomies, and blame parents for their children's eating disorders.  She is now a strong believer in the Maudsley method for treating children. I wanted to share my comment to Laura with all of you.

Thank you, Laura, for your activism and for doing what you know is important in a public way. I feel so strongly about parents and the bum rap they get. As a treatment center owner and psychotherapist, I have talked to literally thousands of families over the years, and in 90% of the cases, parents truly love their children and want the best for them. Now, whether these parents have the most effective tools to help their children is another matter. But parents shouldn't be blamed. There are some parents who neglect their children and other parents who smother them, but they do love them.

I think parents do take on guilt, shame, and blame. "What did I do wrong? How could I have done this differently?" Ultimately parents need to learn to let these feelings go and know deep within themselves that they have done the best they could!

I have mixed feelings about the Maudsley method. On one hand, it's wonderful for parents to take an active part in the child's recovery process. On the other hand, I don't like the idea of the parents assuming the role of food police. In an ideal world, the child will learn to regulate herself, perhaps with her family's help, develop self-esteem, and age-appropriate independence so she ends up being responsible for her own health. Intensive family treatment needs to be required for any child in out-patient therapy as well as residential or inpatient.

Eating disorders definitely have a huge physiological component. In our research, we have found that people with eating disorders have different brain wave patterns than do normal folks. Through neurofeedback, we teach clients to regulate themselves physiologically.

Unfortunately, as you said, the medical/insurance community has not paid nearly enough attention to eating disorders — particularly for a condition that is the leading cause of death for adolescent females! With insurance companies, it seems as if a policy holder must die, as in the case of Anna Weston (BC/BS of Minnesota) before treatment is adequately covered.

I could go on and on — but thank you again, Laura!!