Effective Family Therapy is Key in Eating Disorder Recovery


Although families feel a myriad of emotions when their loved one is suffering from an eating disorder, they are an ally during treatment. The role of the family in eating disorder treatment is widely recognized as being important and essential for a successful recovery. Systems Based Family Theory can be a helpful tool for creating sustainable, second order change for clients with eating disorders.

According to Systems Based Family Theory, a family system that includes one or more members with an eating disorder, can change in two ways:

  1. First-order change involves the existing structure, doing more or less of something, and involving a restoration of balance.
  2. Second-order change is creating a new way to see things completely. It requires new learning and involves a non-linear progression, a transformation from one state to another. The goal would be to enable the individual to behave, think and feel differently.

At Magnolia Creek, we desire second-order change for women seeking treatment and recovery. Our focus is to foster long-lasting, deeper, and sustainable changes to incorporate into the lives we can touch.

What is family therapy at Magnolia Creek?

Although family relationships can be complicated at times, research shows that recovery rates are higher for clients when their family is part of the treatment process. Family therapy is a collaborative process that begins with a meeting between the client and their treatment to team to establish family and relationship goals; clients then identify the family members or support system with whom they wish to work with in family therapy. At Magnolia Creek, we have designed our family program to provide education, advocacy, and therapy for the family or support system. The family role in treatment can take on a variety of responsibilities. We believe that a family can be supportive and engaged in the treatment by participating in the family sessions with open and honest communication.

Magnolia Creek Family Therapist, Jessica Shafer, shares, “As the Family Therapist, I first identify who is the family member or support system and how much involvement they will have in treatment. Once this is done, I send them information to gather additional information regarding the client’s history, insight into the client’s past relationships, early childhood, and their eating disorder behavior and mental health. The first few sessions, I like to spend time getting to know the client, and then assess when to involve family members or support system based on their willingness.”

In family therapy at Magnolia Creek, our therapists utilize modalities that consist of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Experiential Family Therapy, Bowenian Family Therapy and Structural Family Therapy. Our program also integrates experiential therapy to help build confidence, challenge distorted thinking and help develop effective coping skills.  “I am client-centered and like to use therapy interventions that I believe will fit best not only for the client, but also the family,” says Jessica. Using different modalities in family therapy can help the client gain a new perspective from their family and engage with them in a different way. The family learns how to become a better support system as they begin to understand the eating disorder and the behaviors.

There is much work that goes into family therapy, and for it to be effective there are a few recommended tips to follow:

  • Prepare prior to therapy by jotting down questions or issues for discussion
  • If there is one family member you don’t get along with, carefully decide what you’ll say to them when you have your chance to speak
  • Remain strong and respectful
  • Speak calmly
  • Try not to argue

What is the Magnolia Creek Family Workshop?

At Magnolia Creek, we have a multi-day, intensive process called the Family Workshop. To maximize the full benefits, families are required to attend all three-days. During the Family Workshop, participants are given eating disorder and mental health education, communication, boundary setting techniques, and participate in interactive groups and family therapy sessions. Following the day sessions, family members and clients are given homework that helps to stimulate self-exploration, therapeutic discussion, and conflict resolution. Families and clients also share meals and can meet the Magnolia Creek staff.

Collaborative Treatment at Magnolia Creek

Family therapy is a core part of the treatment process at Magnolia Creek. It provides a safe place for the family and the client to ask questions, share information, and address concerns. Family therapy can open the door for identifying toxic patterns of behavior and understanding the root causes of an eating disorder. The valuable insight gained allows the family to play a key role in helping their loved to maintain their recovery once they leave treatment. Our strengths-based and collaborative program helps clients and families to look beyond the symptoms of an eating disorder. For more information on our family therapy program, call us at 205-409-4220 or complete our contact form.


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