Autonomy support and autonomous motivation in the outpatient treatment of adults with an eating disorder

Int J Eat Disord. 2017 Sep;50(9):1058-1066. doi: 10.1002/eat.22734. Epub 2017 Jun 14.

Abstract

Objective: Across diverse clinical problems, therapists' autonomy support has been found to increase patients' autonomous motivation for change. Being self-motivated has, in turn, been linked to superior treatment response. In people undergoing outpatient eating disorder (ED) treatment, we examined associations among ratings of autonomy support received from therapists and other carers, self-reported engagement in therapy, and clinical outcomes.

Method: Ninety-seven women with anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, or a related ED provided measures of motivational status and clinical symptoms at the beginning and end of time-limited (12-16 weeks) segments of specialized treatment. At mid-treatment, patients also rated the extent to which they perceived their individual therapists, group therapists, group-therapy peers, family members, friends, and romantic partners as being autonomy supportive.

Results: Overall, multiple regression analyses indicated autonomy support to moderate (rather than mediate) the link between initial autonomous motivation and later change in autonomous motivation-with results indicating that, independently of ED diagnosis or treatment intensity, greater perceived autonomy support (from therapists and nontherapists alike) coincided with larger increases in autonomous motivation over the course of therapy. In turn, higher autonomous motivation at end-of-therapy coincided with larger reductions in eating symptoms.

Discussion: Findings suggest that the experience of autonomy support (from therapists and nontherapists) is associated with increasing motivation in people undergoing ED treatment, and that becoming self-motivated is linked to better outcomes. Such results indicate that support from therapists, relatives, and peers can favorably influence personal engagement in individuals undergoing ED treatment.

Keywords: autonomous motivation; autonomy support; eating disorders; prognostic indices; treatment outcome.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders / therapy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Motivation
  • Outpatients
  • Personal Autonomy*
  • Self Report