Why are we asking this now?
An estimated one million people in Britain suffer from eating disorders which are notoriously difficult to treat. They have the highest death rate of any mental disorder, either from suicide or form the effects of starvation.
Researchers have developed a new form of psychotherapy which they say has the potential to treat more than eight out of ten adults with eating disorders. The therapy is an "enhanced" form of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which was tested on 154 patients in Oxfordshire and Leicestershire. Two thirds showed a "complete and lasting response", sustained over the following year, and many of the rest showed substantial improvement, according to the researchers from the University of Oxford. The results are published in the American Journal of Psychiatry.
What is cognitive behaviour therapy?
At its simplest, it is a technique for helping people replace habitual negative thinking with positive thinking, by getting them to see the glass as half full not half empty. The aim is to help the individual replace dysfunctional thoughts such as "I knew I would never be able to cope with this job" with alternatives such as, "The job is not going well but I can work out a plan to deal with the problems." Negative thinking is very prevalent in western societies with their emphasis on competition and success. The problem is getting people into treatment.
How does it differ from other forms of therapy?
It is brief, it is direct and it works. It is one of the few therapies for which there is good clinical evidence of its effectiveness. CBT has revolutionised the way doctors approach the treatment of depression. Whereas in the past they might have prescribed Prozac or other antidepressant drugs, CBT is now the treatment of first choice – where it is available.
Instead of focusing on the causes of distress or symptoms, that may lie buried in the past, the therapy examines ways to improve the patient's state of mind now. A course of treatment would usually last for six to eight half hour sessions with a trained counsellor who would offer practical help to the individual to alter ways of thinking to challenge feelings of hopelessness.