Perceived change mechanisms in multi-family therapy for anorexia nervosa: A qualitative follow-up study of adolescent and parent experiences

Eur Eat Disord Rev. 2023 Nov;31(6):822-836. doi: 10.1002/erv.3006. Epub 2023 Jul 6.


Objective: Multi-family therapy (MFT-AN) is a promising group-based treatment for adolescent anorexia nervosa. This study aimed to explore how young people and parents perceived change to occur during MFT treatment.

Methods: Young people (10-18 years) diagnosed with anorexia nervosa or atypical anorexia nervosa and their parents who completed MFT-AN alongside family therapy for anorexia nervosa within the preceding 2 years were eligible for this study. Semi-structured qualitative interviews were conducted. Recordings were transcribed verbatim and analysed using reflexive thematic analysis.

Results: Twenty-three participants (8 young people, 10 mothers and 5 fathers) completed interviews. Five main themes were identified; (1) Powerful connection, (2) Intensity, (3) New learning and perspective shifts, (4) Comparisons, and (5) Discharge is not recovery. There was a strong sense that being with others in a similar position in an intense environment were key factors in promoting change. Comparisons were inevitable and could promote insight and foster motivation, but could also be unhelpful at times. Participants spoke about how recovery continues beyond service use and requires ongoing attention and support.

Conclusions: Through the mechanisms of connection, intensity, new learning and comparisons change is perceived to occur in MFT-AN. Some of these are considered unique to this treatment format.

Keywords: Maudsley family therapy; adolescents; anorexia nervosa; family based treatment; family therapy; group therapy; multi-family therapy; qualitative.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Anorexia Nervosa* / diagnosis
  • Anorexia Nervosa* / therapy
  • Family Therapy*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Parents
  • Treatment Outcome