Contemporary Family Therapy

, Volume 39, Issue 1, pp 31–42 | Cite as

Young Women’s Experience of Anorexia, Family Dynamics and Triangulation

Original Paper


The study explored the experience of triadic family relationships of six young women with a diagnosis of Anorexia Nervosa alongside a consideration of their attachment strategies. The research methods employed semi-structured individual interviews, a family sculpt and use of an adapted version of the Adolescent Separation Anxiety Test (SAT). This adaptation featured a unique development for this study of photographs depicting triadic family separation and conflict situations. These attempted to offer an integrated view of their experience of anorexia and of family relationships alongside a consideration of the attachment strategies evoked. Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis was used to generate themes that captured the young women’s experience, and a modified version of the SAT protocol coding was used to explore attachment strategies. The main themes to emerge from the data were found to be: Relational distance to attachment figures, Barriers to emotional connection, and Perception of parents’ relationship. Attachment strategies were shown to influence perceptions of family relationships and of triadic processes and conflicts. Clinical implications of the findings are discussed alongside limitations of the study and indications for future research.


Anorexia Triangulation Family dynamics Qualitative research Attachment Young women 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The research reported in this paper did not receive any external funding and there is no conflict of interest regarding the authors of the paper.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Victoria Smalley
    • 1
  • Rudi Dallos
    • 2
  • Rebecca McKenzie
    • 2
  1. 1.Redditch and Bromsgrove CAMHSWorcestershire Health and Care NHS TrustRedditchUK
  2. 2.University of PlymouthPlymouthUK

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