Web based CBT reduces anxiety and depression in carers of people with anorexia nervosa

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Eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa can place considerable strain on families.  Parents or partners often care for people with anorexia nervosa and this can be a very distressing experience for them.  Carers naturally get very involved, but unfortunately this can sometimes lead to them criticising the sufferer and making the situation worse by contributing to the disorder.

A team from the Institute of Psychiatry have published the results of a randomised controlled trial which aims to evaluate the efficacy of a novel web-based systemic cognitive-behavioural (CBT) intervention for carers of people with anorexia nervosa, designed to reduce carer distress and teach skills in how to offer effective support.

The small trial recruited 64 carers of people with anorexia nervosa and randomly allocated them to either:

  • the web-intervention, overcoming anorexia online, with limited clinician supportive guidance (by email or phone)
  • or to ad-hoc usual support from the UK patient and carer organization Beat.

Outcomes were measured after the carers completed their treatment (at 4 months) and then at follow-up (6 months).

The results showed that web-based treatment significantly reduced carers’ anxiety and depression (primary outcome) at post-treatment, with a similar trend in carers’ expressed emotion. Other secondary outcomes did not favour the online intervention. Gains were maintained at follow-up.

The authors concluded that:

This is the first ever study to use an online CBT program to successfully reduce carer distress and improve carers’ ability to support the person with anorexia nervosa.

M. Grover, U. Naumann, L. Mohammad-Dar, D. Glennon, S. Ringwood, I. Eisler, C. Williams, J. Treasure and U. Schmidt. A randomized controlled trial of an Internet-based cognitive-behavioural skills package for carers of people with anorexia nervosa. Psychological Medicine, Available on CJO 2011 doi:10.1017/S0033291711000766 [Abstract]

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