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Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID) is a condition characterised by a disturbance in eating behaviour that leads to a significant negative impact on physical, social and nutritional health. The diagnosis of ARFID relies on a comprehensive, multi-disciplinary assessment to understand the individual’s history, physical, social and mental health risk, and any co-occurring mental health difficulties. Consensus guidance suggests that psychological treatment, alongside medical and dietetic input is delivered with consideration of any appropriate adaptions to accommodate developmental stage and/or common co-occurring presentations. This paper has been authored by clinicians working in an out-patient setting for children and adolescents with ARFID, and focuses on the presentation and assessment of ARFID and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) approaches that can help children, young people and their families. After an introductory section, the paper is split into four sections: assessment of ARFID; drivers of avoidant restrictive eating behaviour; multi-disciplinary formulation and intervention planning; and treatment. The treatment section provides an overview of the available research on CBT for ARFID, and a brief summary of the broader evidence base for CBT in children and young people with anxiety. Following a review of the evidence base, three case descriptions are provided to illustrate the clinical application of CBT where fear-based avoidance is the main driver. The paper concludes with practice points for clinicians to take forward when working with children and young people with ARFID.
Key learning aims
(1) To be aware of the international consensus for the use of psychological interventions as a component of ARFID treatment alongside medical and dietetic input.
(2) To understand that ARFID is characterised as a disturbance of eating behaviour, and as such, psychological intervention should target the drivers of this disturbance to promote behavioural change.
(3) To gain an overview of the multi-disciplinary team assessment as an important tool to understand the contribution of each of the three drivers proposed to underpin an ARFID presentation.
(4) To recognise when a CBT approach might be indicated, the current best evidence base for CBT for ARFID and how to adapt CBT to accommodate developmental stage and/or common co-occurring presentations.
Families express a need for information to support people with severe anorexia nervosa.
To examine the impact of the addition of a skills training intervention for caregivers (Experienced Caregivers Helping Others, ECHO) to standard care.
Patients over the age of 12 (mean age 26 years, duration 72 months illness) with a primary diagnosis of anorexia nervosa and their caregivers were recruited from 15 in-patient services in the UK. Families were randomised to ECHO (a book, DVDs and five coaching sessions per caregiver) or treatment as usual. Patient (n=178) and caregiver (n=268) outcomes were measured at discharge and 6 and 12 months after discharge.
Patients with caregivers in the ECHO group had reduced eating disorder psychopathology (EDE-Q) and improved quality of life (WHO-Quol; both effects small) and reduced in-patient bed days (7–12 months post-discharge). Caregivers in the ECHO group had reduced burden (Eating Disorder Symptom Impact Scale, EDSIS), expressed emotion (Family Questionnaire, FQ) and time spent caregiving at 6 months but these effects were diminished at 12 months.
Small but sustained improvements in symptoms and bed use are seen in the intervention group. Moreover, caregivers were less burdened and spent less time providing care. Caregivers had most benefit at 6 months suggesting that booster sessions, perhaps jointly with the patients, may be needed to maintain the effect. Sharing skills and information with caregivers may be an effective way to improve outcomes. This randomised controlled trial (RCT) was registered with Current Controlled Trials ISRCTN06149665.
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