Researchers Examine Social Interactions in Anorexia Nervosa
> 11/8/2007 10:13:04 AM

When she attempted to examine some of the most fundamental problems in the treatment of anorexia nervosa, Dr. Nancy Zucker began to see patterns of behavior that were ripe for study. Specifically, Dr. Zucker noticed that individuals with anorexia notoriously failed to comply with treatment, and often this failure was coupled with a failure to establish a healthy relationship with a treating therapist. As she stated in a Duke University press release:

"I wanted to find out why some people with anorexia have so much trouble remaining in treatment, being successful in treatment and engaging with their therapists. How do you explain that they are so competent in some areas, yet have trouble forming intimate relationships? The research shows their relationship difficulties are not just a scar of the disease," Dr. Zucker says. "There is evidence that the social challenges predate their anorexia, and persist after they recover."

With these questions in mind, Dr. Zucker and teams at the Duke Eating Disorders Program and the UNC Eating Disorders Program, have set a course of investigation that will examine what role socialization techniques might play in improving anorexia treatment. This new information should help to bolster treatment regimens that largely focus first on fixing any life-threatening issues, and then move onto examining the psychological factors that led to the disorder and establishing healthy eating behaviors. These two steps are important and are unlikely to change because anorexia remains one of the most deadly mental disorders, thus treating the most serious threats to health first must be an unwavering goal.

Where Dr. Zucker's efforts will come into play is in longer term treatment. The outlook for anorexia can be poor. Even those who succeed with treatment will tend to stay thin and continue to be preoccupied with food. While all treatments strive to address the psychological underpinnings that motivate the negative behaviors, a greater understanding of the interpersonal difficulties of those with anorexia could lead to more effective treatments of this variety. If research can lead to new strategies that in turn lead to healthier and happier relationships for individuals struggling with anorexia, that will prove an invaluable weapon in combatting the disorder.

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