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Caring for someone with anorexia nervosa is distressing.
To gain a detailed understanding of carers' illness models and caregiving experiences.
Qualitative analysis and computerised text analysis were conducted on narratives written by parents as part of a family intervention at a specialist in-patient unit (20 mothers, 20 fathers)
Themes concerned illness perceptions, impact on the family and carers' emotional, cognitive and behavioural responses towards the illness. Parents perceived anorexia nervosa to be chronic and disabling. Carers blamed themselves as contributing to the illness and perceived themselves as helpless in promoting recovery. Mothers illustrated an intense emotional response, whereas fathers produced a more cognitive and detached account.
Part of the distress in living with anorexia nervosa may be explained by unhelpful assumptions and maladaptive responses to the illness. Training parents in skills to manage the illness may improve outcome by reducing interpersonal maintaining factors.
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