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Professor Fairburn trained in medicine at Oxford and in psychiatry at Edinburgh. He returned to Oxford in 1979. He was awarded a Wellcome Senior Lectureship in 1984 and a Wellcome Principal Research Fellowship in 1996.
Professor Fairburn directs two research centres at Oxford, the Centre for Research on Eating Disorders at Oxford (CREDO 1) and the Centre for Research on Dissemination at Oxford (CREDO 2). This reflects his two main research interests, the nature and treatment of eating disorders and the development, evaluation and dissemination of psychological treatments. Professor Fairburn has an international reputation in both fields. This is illustrated by the fact that he has been a recipient of both the Outstanding Researcher Award from the Academy of Eating Disorders and the Aaron Beck Prize from the Academy of Cognitive Therapy.
Over the past 30 years Professor Fairburn has used laboratory, clinical and epidemiological studies to identify the processes that lead eating disorders to persist and at the same time he has devised ways of disrupting these processes. The result has been the development of psychological treatments for the eating disorders (anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and allied states). He developed the leading evidence-based treatment for the eating disorders (a specific form of cognitive behaviour therapy, CBT-E), as well as two of the leading second-line treatments (interpersonal psychotherapy for eating disorders and guided self-help). All three treatments have been advocated by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) and are in widespread use. A detailed guide to the practice of CBT-E is available.
In 1995 Professor Fairburn wrote Overcoming Binge Eating, a book for those with binge eating problems. This provides a detailed account of these problems together with a self-help programme based upon the successful cognitive behavioural treatment for them. This programme has been extensively tested and is a leading first line treatment for binge eating problems. Recently he completely revised the book and adapted the programme to reflect advances in treatment. The new version is closely based on CBT-E and is due to be published early in 2013.
Professor Fairburn, together with his Oxford colleague, Professor Zafra Cooper, also developed the leading measure of eating disorder psychopathology, the Eating Disorder Examination (EDE). This measure, and its self-report version (EDE-Q), is used in most studies of eating disorders and their treatment.
Professor Fairburn is a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences and he has twice been a Fellow at Stanford’s Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences. Until recently he was a Governor of the Wellcome Trust, one of the largest international biomedical research foundations. He is a Governor of a new mental health research charity (currently named Insight).
Markers of Professor Fairburn's academic standing include the following: