Neuroscience of Adolescent Anorexia Nervosa: Implications for Family-Based Treatment (FBT)

Over the past 20 years significant progress has been made to elucidate some of the neurobiological underpinnings of the development and maintenance of anorexia nervosa and their possible implications for treatment. There is increasing evidence supporting the notion that anorexia nervosa shares neurobehavioral patterns with anxiety disorders and involves reward processing aberrations and habit formation. There is consensus for the need of early intervention to ameliorate the effects of starvation on the adolescent brain and the effects of illness duration on neurodevelopment. Family-based treatment (FBT) is the first line evidence-based treatment for adolescents with anorexia nervosa achieving sustainable full remission rates of over 40%. FBT has an agnostic treatment approach and its mechanisms of change have until now not been fully understood. To help fill this gap in theoretical understanding, this paper will provide a review of the treatment model of FBT through a neuroscientific lens. It argues that FBT is well designed to address the implications of current key findings of the neuroscience of anorexia nervosa and that it is also well aligned with the current understanding of neuroscience principles underpinning therapeutic change. The paper supports the perspective that FBT utilizes principles of parent facilitated exposure response prevention. It concludes that an integration of a neuroscience perspective to the provision of FBT will assist the clinician in their practice of FBT.

by Roger Mysliwiec, NZEDC, published in Frontiers of Psychiatry, 21 May 2020

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