Online group therapy may be effective treatment for bulimia nervosa

November 29, 2016 by Tom Hughes, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine

Eight years ago, researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill launched a new kind of clinical trial to compare the effectiveness of online therapy – delivered through group chat sessions – to face-to-face group therapy for the treatment of bulimia nervosa, an eating disorder marked by recurrent episodes of binge eating (or eating an unusually large amount of food and feeling out of control) coupled with purging behaviors such as vomiting, laxative abuse, or excessive exercise.

Now results from the study, published online by the journal Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, show that online can be just as effective as face-to-face treatment, although the pace of recovery may be slower.

"Bulimia nervosa is a devastating and sometimes deadly illness, and research has shown for years that cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) for bulimia is the most effective treatment, said Stephanie Zerwas, PhD, first author of the study, associate professor of psychiatry in the UNC School of Medicine, and clinical director of the UNC Center of Excellence for Eating Disorders. "I know that too many people have to travel for hours to find expert treatment. Online treatment could help us bridge that gap."

In the study, 179 adults started 16 sessions of group therapy with a therapist at one of two study sites: UNC-Chapel Hill and Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic (WPIC) of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Assignment to either the online group or the traditional face-to-face group was completely random.

Researchers compared the results of the two groups at the end of treatment, and then again 12 months later. Immediately after treatment, the face-to-face group produced better results than the online group, when it came to helping patients reach a point where they were completely free of and purging. But by the 12-month follow-up, the gap in treatment results between the two groups had narrowed dramatically; neither method of delivery (online versus face-to-face therapy) was better than the other.

"We have evidence-based treatments that are effective for many people with bulimia, but many people don't have access to specialist care," said Cynthia M. Bulik, PhD, Distinguished Professor of Eating Disorders at UNC, founding director of the UNC Center of Excellence for Eating Disorders, and director of the Center for Eating Disorders Innovation at Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden. "This study encourages us to use technology to bring to the patients who can't come to us."

Explore further: Genetic risk factor for binge eating discovered

More information: Stephanie C. Zerwas et al. CBT4BN: A Randomized Controlled Trial of Online Chat and Face-to-Face Group Therapy for Bulimia Nervosa, Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics (2017). DOI: 10.1159/000449025

Related Stories

Genetic risk factor for binge eating discovered

October 26, 2016
Researchers have identified a gene (CYFIP2) associated with binge eating.

Binge eating disorder can be treated

November 10, 2015
When most people hear the term "eating disorder," they usually think of anorexia or bulimia nervosa. While anorexia and bulimia are more commonly recognized, doctors are concerned about a different kind of eating disorder ...

Binge-eating disorder patients respond well to major forms of treatment

June 29, 2016
A new systematic review by the RTI International-University of North Carolina (UNC) Evidence-based Practice Center (EPC),  published today in the Annals of Internal Medicine, identified several effective options for treating ...

Brains of those with anorexia and bulimia can override urge to eat

November 7, 2016
Scientists at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus have discovered the neurological reasons why those with anorexia and bulimia nervosa are able to override the urge to eat.

Study reveals high rate of disordered eating in young Australian women

June 28, 2016
Up to one-third of young Australian women experience episodes of binge or overeating, with socially disadvantaged women at greater than average risk.

Recommended for you

Early puberty in white adolescent boys increases substance use risk

July 16, 2018
White adolescent boys experiencing early puberty are at higher risk for substance use than later developing boys, a new Purdue University study finds.

How looking at the big picture can lead to better decisions

July 13, 2018
New research suggests how distancing yourself from a decision may help you make the choice that produces the most benefit for you and others affected.

Nature is proving to be awesome medicine for PTSD

July 13, 2018
The awe we feel in nature can dramatically reduce symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, according to UC Berkeley research that tracked psychological and physiological changes in war veterans and at-risk inner-city youth ...

Is depression during pregnancy on the rise?

July 13, 2018
(HealthDay)—Today's young mothers-to-be may be more likely to develop depression while pregnant than their own mothers were, a new study suggests.

Machine learning helps to predict the treatment outcomes of schizophrenia

July 12, 2018
Could the diagnosis and treatment of mental health disorders one day be aided through the help of machine learning? New research from the University of Alberta is bringing us closer to that future through a study published ...

Mental illness study to explore patients' self-assessments

July 12, 2018
As the mental health community pursues new ways to improve the lives of the severely ill, a University of Texas at Dallas researcher is focusing on what can be learned from patients' answers to a simple question: "How do ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.