Treating eating disorders
The development and dissemination of effective treatments
Eating disorders (anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and related conditions) are common, often chronic and disabling, and sometimes fatal. Professor Chris Fairburn and colleagues from the Centre for Research on Eating Disorders (CREDO) have made considerable advances into the understanding and treatment of these conditions.
Chris Fairburn formulated the 'cognitive behavioural theory' of bulimia nervosa and developed a theory-driven treatment, a specific form of cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT-BN).
It is estimated that 96,500 people in England and Wales alone could be cured if they received a course of CBT-BN. However, many people do not come forward for treatment or it may not be available in their area. In the late 1990s, Chris and the team set about developing an 'enhanced' form of CBT-BN suitable for all eating disorders (CBT-E) including anorexia nervosa. They published their results in 2009 and 2013 showing that 80% of patients completed the treatment and three-quarters of these made a full recovery. There is no other treatment with this clinical range or level of effectiveness. The use of this new treatment has been strongly endorsed by NICE in its guidelines for eating disorders and the Chief Medical Officer recommended that it be made available in all NHS Clinical Commissioning Groups.
Naturally, there is worldwide interest from clinicians in being trained to deliver CBT-E. This has led Chris and his team to shift their research onto how best to disseminate psychological treatments. The result has been the development of 'web-centred training’; a means of training large numbers of therapists simultaneously. More than 3,500 therapists from 40 countries worldwide have received training thereby greatly accelerating access to the new effective treatment for eating disorders. Based on the number of therapists trained in the NHS, it is estimated that at least 30,000 patients in England received CBT-E between 2014 and 2020.