A treatment which has been successfully used to treat social phobia will be used—in a world-first study—to treat sufferers of bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder.
In a University of Sydney and University of New South Wales research collaboration eating disorder sufferers with attention therapy training (ATT) will receive an innovative treatment that trains patients to regard negative thoughts and feelings as “noise” and redirect their attention elsewhere.
“Bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorder are serious psychological disorders and appear to be increasing in prevalence in Australia,” says Nadine-Devaki Wright, lead researcher behind the study, from the University of Sydney‘s School of Psychology.
“One thing is certain: adolescent girls and young women in developed countries like Australia are at far greater risk of developing these disorders.”
Binge-eating disorder involves eating a very large amount of food in a short period of time and a sense of loss of control over eating, while bulimia nervosa is characterized by binge eating followed by purging.
Wright reported that “Alarmingly, fewer than half of those who suffer from these eating disorders receive treatment, and for those who do seek treatment, there are still a high proportion of people who do not respond to the current therapies on offer.”
Bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder are particularly serious because of their persistence, and their associated psychological and physical consequences.
Associated features of these eating disorders include depressed mood, social withdrawal, insomnia and decreased sex drive. Physically, repeated purging may cause electrolyte imbalances, metabolic problems, dental problems, enlarged salivary glands and even cardiac disorders.
“We hope ATT will provide another treatment option to make an effective difference in the lives of people suffering with an eating disorder.”
Volunteers for the study are currently being sought in NSW. The University of Sydney psychology researcher is recruiting females aged 18 to 40 who engage in binge eating or bulimia at least once a week. Participants will be randomly allocated to ATT or a wait list control group, and will attend six group sessions and a follow-up session.
As part of ATT, the trial will also focus on conducting a comprehensive body image assessment, including the value placed on weight and shape, body image, body satisfaction, and body checking and avoidance.
The University of Sydney researcher added that people with eating disorders tend to face challenges with how they direct their attention. “We might find that when they walk into a room, the first thing they notice is people’s weight and size, and this triggers negative thoughts.
“With ATT, we teach people to be aware of where their attention is going and redirect it. This technique has had a significant effect for sufferers of social phobia in former research, and we’re hoping it can make a real impact for people with bulimia and binge disorder.”
In Australia, psychology is taught at the university level. To be able to register to work as a psychologist in Australia, graduates must complete a four-year/honours degree, followed by two years of either study in a specialist area or supervised practice.
OzTREKK’s Australian universities offer professional training via Master of Psychology and Doctor of Psychology degrees. The psychology programs comprise professionally oriented coursework, supervised practical training and major research dissertation.