Attitudes of patients with anorexia nervosa to compulsory treatment and coercion

Int J Law Psychiatry. 2010 Jan-Feb;33(1):13-19. doi: 10.1016/j.ijlp.2009.10.003. Epub 2009 Nov 18.


Background: The compulsory treatment of anorexia nervosa is a contentious issue. Research suggests that patients are often subject to compulsion and coercion even without formal compulsory treatment orders. Research also suggests that patients suffering from anorexia nervosa can change their minds in retrospect about compulsion.

Methods: Qualitative interviewing methods were used to explore the views of 29 young women concerning compulsion and coercion in the treatment of anorexia nervosa. The participants were aged between 15 to 26years old, and were suffering or had recently suffered from anorexia nervosa at the time of interview.

Results: Compulsion and formal compulsory treatment of anorexia nervosa were considered appropriate where the condition was life-threatening. The perception of coercion was moderated by relationships. What mattered most to participants was not whether they had experienced restriction of freedom or choice, but the nature of their relationships with parents and mental health professionals.

Conclusions: People with anorexia nervosa appear to agree with the necessity of compulsory treatment in order to save life. The perception of coercion is complex and not necessarily related to the degree of restriction of freedom.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Anorexia Nervosa / psychology
  • Anorexia Nervosa / therapy*
  • Attitude*
  • Coercion*
  • Commitment of Mentally Ill / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Patients / psychology*
  • Psychotherapy / legislation & jurisprudence
  • United Kingdom
  • Young Adult