Dialectical Behavior Therapy Effective Treatment for Binge Eating Disorder

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Dialectical Behavior Therapy Effective Treatment for Binge Eating Disorder

In a study published in December 2014 in the Journal of Eating Disorders, a team of Canadian and American researchers examined the effectiveness of dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) as a binge eating disorder treatment; the researchers also explored the underlying factors that may account for DBT’s usefulness, including an improved ability to control the emotions associated with binge eating.

Binge Eating Disorder

Binge eating disorder a is a fairly widespread form of eating disorder in the U.S.; women have much greater chances of developing the condition than men. Doctors sometimes use a form of change-oriented psychotherapy called dialectical behavior therapy as a treatment for binge eating. Along with anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and several other conditions, binge eating disorder belongs to a group of diagnosable mental health problems categorized by the American Psychiatric Association as feeding and eating disorders. Although anorexia and bulimia are probably more widely recognized by the general public, binge eating disorder occurs substantially more often than either one of these ailments. Recent estimates from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases indicate that roughly 3.5 percent of all American women qualify for a diagnosis of the disorder; among men, the rate of diagnosis is 2 percent. Smaller but significant numbers of teenage girls and boys also have diagnosable symptoms of binge eating disorder.

In many respects, binge eating disorder resembles bulimia nervosa. Like people affected by bulimia, people affected by binge eating disorder do such things as periodically consume excessive amounts of food in a relatively brief timeframe, eat far past the point of satiation, feel incapable of controlling their bingeing episodes, eat in the absence of hunger, experience guilt or other damaging emotional states as a consequence of their eating behaviors and attempt to mask their behaviors from others. However, while people with bulimia try to offset their food binges with episodes of purging, people with binge eating disorder do not.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy

Dialectical behavior therapy is an offshoot of another change-oriented psychotherapeutic approach called cognitive behavioral therapy. DBT was originally developed to help doctors address the non-suicidal self-harming and suicidal behaviors that often repeatedly appear in people dealing with the mental illness known as borderline personality disorder. During the first phase of the therapy, clients/patients learn how to non-judgmentally accept their unpleasant or unwanted thoughts, attitudes and actions. After committing to this act of acceptance, participants start gradually examining their thoughts, attitudes and behaviors and working to change patterns that contribute their unwell state. Dialectical behavior therapy also includes instruction in how to cope with the damaging impact of problematic patterns of thought, attitude and behavior in specific, real-world situations.

Effectiveness in Binge Eating Treatment

In the study published in the Journal of Eating Disorders, researchers from Stanford University and Canada’s University of Calgary explored the potential usefulness of a modified approach to dialectical behavior therapy specifically intended to help people affected by binge eating disorder. This modified form of DBT provides treatment in the form of literature-based self-help sessions that are overseen by a trained health professional. A total of 60 people dealing with binge-eating problems took part in the project; women made up fully 88 percent of this participant group. In addition to assessing the effectiveness of dialectical behavior therapy, the researchers specifically wanted to know if potential benefits of the treatment come from an improved ability to exert emotional control.

All of the study participants received a manual detailing the basics of DBT; in addition, each participant engaged in six brief, supportive phone conversations with a health professional. For each individual, the researchers compared the frequency of binge eating before treatment to the frequency immediately after treatment, four months after treatment, five months after treatment and six months after treatment. The researchers also compared the self-reported ability to control emotions at all of these times.

After analyzing their data, the researchers concluded that participation in the modified form of dialectical behavior therapy resulted in a substantial decline in binge-eating episodes among the study participants. They also concluded that improved control over emotions largely accounted for the observed decline. The effects of DBT remained strong after treatment and were at their peak at the four-month follow-up assessment. However, after four months, the improvements in emotional control started to dissipate.

The study’s authors believe their work demonstrates the usefulness of dialectical behavior therapy as a treatment for binge eating disorder; they also believe their work helps explain why DBT has a positive effect. However, the authors emphasize the need for larger studies to verify their results, as well as the need for additional research on ways to extend the timeframe of DBT’s treatment benefits.3

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