But clinicians are at a disadvantage when it comes to treating troubled teens, because there's a dearth of research into what treatments actually work for the younger people.
For example, "there aren't a lot of treatments [for eating disorders], especially in adolescence, that have been proven to work," Vazzana said. Family therapy is one treatment that has shown good results in randomized, controlled trials.
There are good treatments that work for bulimia in adults but no one knows if they trickle down to children, though anecdotally they do seem to have some effect, Vazzana said. These include cognitive behavioral therapy and interpersonal therapy.
None of this means that parents should give up hope. Treating eating disorders, addictions and other mental health issues in younger people can be difficult, but it's not impossible, said Schlager.
"It depends on the condition. If it's one of the conditions that only have behavioral treatments and no medication, then it's hard first of all to get them [children] to participate in behavioral treatment," he said.
And, according to Vazzana, there's no evidence yet that 12-Step programs work for eating disorders, especially in younger people, because they require people to acknowledge their illness.
"To get a teenager to acknowledge that they have an illness and that they need care, that's narcissistically overwhelming," Schlager said. "Like most young people, they pretend it's not happening."
Wynn Oleson is a pseudonym for the author of My Daughter Is Bulimic and the Cat Has Hairballs: The 95-Pound Addict in the Room. She found that neither 12-Step programs for addiction, nor a host of other "adult-oriented" treatments, helped her daughter, who has struggled with both ea
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