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UBC Theses and Dissertations

"Hugely traumatic things happened" : 'well' siblings' retrospective insights alongside anorexia Renfrew Frigon, Jessica


The mortality risk for anorexia nervosa (AN) is five times greater than any psychiatric disorder. With onset often occurring in adolescence, the implications for practice raise questions about available services to siblings. Extant literature shows that ‘well’ siblings face significant distress and familial conflict from their vicarious exposure to the illness. This retrospective study explored how ‘well’ siblings experience their own identity and positioning within the family system as a result of the presence and pervasiveness of AN. The literature suggests a stark disconnect between social work’s provision of frontline service and its contribution to research informing clinical practice. The findings across contributing disciplines were examined to understand how social work participates in ED research and treatment. Reflecting qualitative methodologies, this study was informed by a narrative framework and employed the interpretive description (ID) strategy. Data were collected via interviews with adults whose siblings have been recovered from AN for a minimum of one year. Three major themes and 10 sub-themes were formed to reflect ‘well’ siblings’ past and present experiences alongside AN, with particular attention to familial dynamics, relationships, and mechanisms for coping. Issues of access and availability of parallel services for ‘well’ siblings are issues of social justice as the implications of the deprivation of access to services for maintaining sibling wellness have been seldom considered. This study challenges the notion of siblings as ‘the forgotten kin’ by promoting a distinctive view of siblings as indicators of family function and valued members in recovery. Investigating siblings’ responses to AN is vital to developing appropriate clinical interventions, and innovative social policy changes in support of sibling populations rely on sound research. Social work’s expertise of family systems and anti-oppressive practice can empower the demand for sibling-centred services with research addressing existing policy gaps.

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