From Struggle to Strength: How Family-Based Treatment Creates Lasting Recovery

Seeing someone struggle with an eating disorder can be heart-wrenching. Loved ones can feel helpless, not knowing how to assist in the journey towards recovery. This is where Family-Based Treatment (FBT) comes into the picture.

Meet JD Ouellette and her daughter Kinsey Dalbec, together they’re living testaments to the power of FBT. For over eleven years now, JD has been using her hard-earned wisdom as a mother who assisted her own child through an eating disorder and is now guiding others as the Director of Lived Experience at Equip Health.

Additionally, her daughter, Kinsey, is a beacon of hope. Rising from the depths of her own struggle with an eating disorder as a teenager, she’s now in her late 20’s, living in a strong and active recovery. A new mother herself, Kinsey is also advancing her understanding of mental health as a Clinical Counseling student, underscoring the significance of family-based treatment.

They recently appeared on an episode of Equipped to Recover on The Recovery Warrior Shows podcast channel to share their incredible story.

Keep reading as we dive into this real life case study of a mother and daughter coming together to heal and achieve lasting eating disorder recovery.

What is Family Based Treatment?

FBT is the leading evidence-based treatment for adolescents with eating disorders and is recommended as the first-line treatment for patients who are medically stable for outpatient care. It consists of three phases:

Phase 1 – Parents are given the responsibility for bringing about weight restoration (if applicable) and establishing a regular pattern of eating. Parents are asked to make all eating-related decisions for their child.

Phase 2 – Responsibility over eating is gradually handed back to the adolescent to whatever extent is age-appropriate and typical for that particular family.

Phase 3 – Involves a review of healthy adolescence and an assessment of where the adolescent is developmentally once eating disorder symptoms have reduced. [1]

JD & Kinsey’s Story

Kinsey Dalbec’s life took an unexpected turn in her senior year of high school when she was diagnosed with anorexia. For her mother, JD Ouellette, it was a sudden plunge into a world she knew nothing about.

As the reality of the situation dawned upon them, JD realized she had to adapt quickly. Through the journey, JD discovered Family-Based Treatment (FBT), an approach that emphasizes the involvement of parents and the whole family in the recovery process.

JD and Kinsey’s journey became a testament to the transformative power of FBT. It not only provided them with strategies to confront the disorder but also fostered resilience, understanding, and ultimately, hope.

This approach would shape their lives in ways they could not have imagined, ultimately empowering them to navigate Kinsey’s long road to recovery together.

Below are 3 key highlights from their conversation about FBT:

  1. Family Based Treatment strengthens the parent-child bond
  2. Family involvement improves recovery outcomes
  3. Embrace other therapies in conjunction with FBT

1. Family Based Treatment strengthens the parent-child bond

One might fear that the heavy parental involvement that FBT calls for may strain the parent-child relationship. But in reality, the shared experience can deepen bonds, leading to a stronger relationship.

Parents play a decisive role in their child’s recovery, providing a safety net of love and support, helping their child rebuild their lives in the aftermath of their struggle. JD and Kinsey’s narrative confirms this perspective.

This doesn’t ruin the parent-child relationship. This gives it back to you.

JD Ouellette

Their relationship has not only survived the recovery process but has thrived because of it. While there were absolutely bumps in the road along the way, they overcame them and became a team, strengthened by shared experience of working through it together.

We were in the trenches together. Even though we were fighting each other at first, my mom was with me the entire time.

Kinsey Dalbec

Despite the fears, their recovery journey proved to be a testament to the strength of their relationship, providing a beacon of hope for other families facing similar struggles.

2. Family involvement improves recovery outcomes

Bringing family into the eating disorder treatment process can pave the way for a stronger, more effective recovery. When a loved one is struggling, it’s not only their fight – the entire family battles the disorder alongside them.

Family-based treatment (FBT) champions this view, as it involves the family in therapy sessions and decisions about nutritional planning. Casting the family as part of the supportive treatment team can help dispel feelings of blame or guilt, instead fostering understanding and empathy.

It’s a long process. If you do it together, you learn how to support each other.

JD Ouellete

JD and Kinsey’s experience with FBT is an uplifting example reinforcing the power of this shared approach. Despite initial resistance, Kinsey acknowledged how crucial her parents’ intervention was in accepting her condition and making a dedicated effort towards recovery.

For JD, Family Based Treament became a beacon of hope and strength, helping her navigate Kinsey’s eating disorder as a family unit, rather than as isolated individuals.

3. Embrace other therapies in conjunction with FBT

While Family Based Therapy is an effective, evidence based treatment option, embracing different treatment modalities can make recovery go even further.

For JD & Kinsey, that additional treatment was Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), which can offer much-needed lifelines to those battling eating disorders. This method equips families with strategies to manage painful emotions and decrease conflict in relationships while going through recovery.

Essential elements of DBT include mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotional regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness – all invaluable skills for someone hoping to regain control over their life and recover.

I related to DBT because it’s practical. It teaches you to regulate emotions and help control disordered behaviors.

Kinsey Dalbec

Looking at JD and Kinsey’s journey, it’s clear to them how much bearing DBT had on their progress and the role it continues to play in maintaining a recovered life.

JD deeply appreciates DBT for providing their family with tools to control emotions and behavior, which they still apply in everyday life. For Kinsey, DBT’s concept of ‘radical acceptance’ was significant, allowing her to give up control and find resolutions in tough circumstances.

Family Based Treatment Success

JD & Kinsey came through an eating disorder together, and became stronger than ever as a family. Even today, Kinsey knows that her mom has her back.

If I relapse when I’m 50 and my mom is 80, I know she’s got me. My mom’s always had me.

Kinsey Dalbec

FBT empowers families to play an active role in their loved one’s recovery, facilitating improved relationships and open communication.

The importance of understanding and implementing FBT extends beyond the recovery journey itself – it paves the way for stronger family bonds, enriched interactions, and a supportive environment that can weather even the toughest of storms. JD and Kinsey are living proof of this.

Listen to their episode to hear more of their story, including an insightful discussion on the benefits of virtual in home care vs. in person residential treatment, and why it’s important to take an eating disorder diagnosis as seriously as you would a cancer diagnosis.

Click here to learn more about Equip.

Connect with JD, Kinsey, and Equip


[1] The five tenets of family-based treatment for adolescent eating disorders – Journal of Eating Disorders

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