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Kelton-Locke, S. (2016). Eating Disorders, Impaired Mentalization, and Attachment: Implications for Child and Adolescent Family Treatment. J. Infant Child Adolesc. Psychother., 15(4):337-356.

(2016). Journal of Infant, Child & Adolescent Psychotherapy, 15(4):337-356

Eating Disorders, Impaired Mentalization, and Attachment: Implications for Child and Adolescent Family Treatment

Starr Kelton-Locke, Ph.D., Psy.D.

This article reviews the attachment and neuroscience model of Mentalization Based Treatment (MBT) (Allen, Fonagy, & Bateman, 2008) and its application for understanding and treating eating disorders (Skarderud & Fonagy, 2012). Mentalization, or mentalizing, refers to the capacity to apprehend one’s own and others’ behavior in terms of underlying mental states (needs, emotions, desires, beliefs, goals, reasons, and thoughts). Evidence from prospective studies suggests that insecure attachment and poor mentalizing difficulties may be risk factors for the development of eating pathology (Jewell et al., 2015; Rothschild-Yakar, Levy-Shiff, Fridman-Balaban, Gur, & Stein, 2010; Rothschild-Yakar & Stein, 2013). Preliminary research on the use of MBT for treating eating disorders, with nonsuicidal self-injury co-morbidity, suggests some promise for this model (Robinson et al., 2015). The theoretical rationale and key interventions of the MBT eating disorder model (MBT-ED) used in a multicenter research and treatment project are discussed (Skarderud & Fonagy, 2012; Robinson et al., 2015). Modifications of MBT-ED’s structure and techniques are proposed for family treatment of adolescent and child patients with eating disorders. Case example illustrates the impact of problems in the family system with mentalizing capacities on family cohesion, the therapeutic process, and the family’s ability to help the child recover.

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