#LaurensRoadToRecovery: UCSD's Intensive Family Therapy Program


By Samira Zakkout, M.Ed./Ed.S., UCSD Eating Disorders Center for Treatment and Research


It’s very common for staff members at University of California San Diego Eating Disorders Center to have several conversations with family members and teens prior to them attending our week-long Intensive Family Therapy (IFT) program. 


UCSD IFT program has a collaboration with Project Heal to offer assistance and services to individuals who are struggling with eating disorders. Once Project Heal notified Lauren Spencer and her family they were selected to receive a grant to attend the UCSD IFT program they contacted our staff directly. I remember my first conversation with Lauren and her mother, Tracy.

Lauren was struggling with completing her nutrition and eating disorder urges.  She was looking for support and wanted her family to be fully integrated in treatment.

I informed her family that some of the latest research in the eating disorders field points to potentially unprecedented levels of success when families become centrally involved in the treatment process. We provide parent(s) with an understanding and the tools necessary to successfully interact and manage their child with an eating disorder at home.

IFT takes place Monday through Friday and involves over 40+ hours of treatment over the course of the week. The program takes place monthly, with 3-6 families participating during each round. When Lauren attended the IFT program there were 4 other families and teens that she participated with. Having the extra support and assistance from other families who are in treatment can increase the positive outcomes.

Many families have reported they felt isolated and hadn’t met other families who had a child with an eating disorder. Thus, having a multi-family format fosters participation, support, and feedback. Additionally, the families often stay in contact long after the IFT week has ended.



Lauren and her mother were together during the entire week-long program. Many teens reported they cannot remember the last time they were together with their family for 40+ hour in the same week. They participate in activities based on the neurobiology of eating disorders to have a better understanding of their internal thoughts and feelings, live meal coaching for 2 meals and 2 snacks/daily, psychoeducation by Dr. Walter Kaye and Dr. Emily Gray, psychiatric consultation, coping skills training, parent coaching groups, and behavioral contracting.


The behavioral contract is considered a “road map” to ensure that parents and children are successful in integrating and applying the skills and tools learned during the IFT week. We encourage families to contact us after the IFT week to inform us how they are progressing and provide us feedback. One family participant stated, “We feel so much more confident in our abilities to help our daughter through this troubled time, and preserve our family. It helped reaffirm that the information we have been receiving is correct, and the best possible way to help our daughter. We are not afraid to parent her through this terrible disorder.

Our IFT clinicians feel honored to assist families and provide them with hands-on support and guidance. We are passionate about providing treatment that works and is effective! We are lucky to have gotten the opportunity to foster Lauren’s road to recovery and proud of her progress.