The family context: cause, effect or resource
Historically, interest in families of people with eating disorders developed from clinical accounts of ‘anorexic families’ (Minuchin et al. 1978), suggesting such families were rigid, had poor communication and parents who were overinvolved with their children’s lives (Yager 1982). These accounts were often persuasive and seemed to offer a way of understanding an important part of the causal pathway in development of the illness, and some research studies appeared to support the conclusions (Latzer and Gaber 1998; McGrane and Carr 2002). However, as many authors indicate, generalizing from clinical accounts or small cross-sectional studies about the nature of aetiological processes is highly problematic, does little to improve our understanding of treatments and can undermine the positive role the family can have in helping the ill patient (Eisler 1995; Le Grange et al. 2010). From a research perspective, the findings also tend to oversimplify complex mechanisms and take little account of reciprocal processes between development of the illness and family functioning (Eisler 1995).