UBC Faculty Research and Publications

Parental experiences with their child’s eating disorder treatment journey Coelho, Jennifer S.; Suen, Janet; Marshall, Sheila, 1956-; Burns, Alex; Lam, Pei-Yoong; Geller, Josie


Parents are integral in the treatment of pediatric eating disorders. The current study was conducted to further understand the barriers and facilitators that parents experience in accessing specialized, tertiary level eating disorder treatment for children and adolescents. The goals of the study were to understand the processes leading to diagnosis and treatment, perceived barriers and facilitators to accessing care, and parents’ experiences over the course of their child’s eating disorder treatment. Methods: Ten parents whose children were admitted to a Canadian tertiary level specialized pediatric eating disorders program took part in an exit interview upon their child’s completion of treatment in the program. Indepth semi-structured interviews were combined with a visual timeline. Interpretive induction was performed to generate high-level concepts that emerged from the interviews. Results: Five high-level concepts were identified: (1) delays in identifying eating disorder symptoms, (2) challenges in accessing eating disorder services, (3) the right treatment at the right time, (4) emotional impact on parents, and (5) parental expertise and involvement. Conclusions: Several barriers were identified by parents that interfered with treatment, including system-related challenges when accessing specialized eating disorder treatment, concerns about a lack of appropriate mental health support for their child, and difficulties with transitioning between community and tertiary level care. Negative emotions, including guilt and self-blame, were common early in the treatment journey. Themes of parental involvement throughout treatment, and parents taking charge of their child’s recovery, emerged across interviews. The results of this study suggest the importance of early identification of eating disorder symptoms, facilitating smoother transitions between levels of care (e.g., community services and hospital-based eating disorder care), and improving clinical decision-making to ensure children and adolescents with eating disorders receive the most appropriate treatment based on their clinical presentation.

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Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)