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This long-term programme of work has led to the development of the three most effective treatments for adults with eating disorders, all of which have been endorsed by NICE.

The first is a cognitive behavioural treatment for bulimia nervosa (Fairburn, 1981), a disorder that was originally described as "intractable". This treatment has been extensively studied and was the first psychological treatment ever to be endorsed by NICE (NICE, 2004).

The second is an "enhanced" form of cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT-E) designed to be more potent than the bulimia nervosa treatment and transdiagnostic in its clinical range. (Fairburn et al, 2003).  CBT-E has been shown to be effective in the treatment of all forms of eating disorder seen in adults. It is strongly endorsed by the latest NICE guidelines on eating disorders (NICE, 2017).

The third is a novel form of treatment delivery termed "guided self-help". We developed this treatment in the mid-1990s as a first-line approach to the treatment of recurrent binge eating (Carter and Fairburn, 1995). It has proved to be highly effective in the treatment of binge eating disorder and moderately effective as a treatment for bulimia nervosa. The NICE guidelines recommend guided self-help as the initial intervention for both disorders (NICE, 2017).

Christopher G Fairburn

Emeritus Professor of Psychiatry

My primary research interest is in the development and evaluation of psychological treatments.  This work mainly embraces:

  • the treatment of eating disorders and depression
  • the use of digital technology to deliver and disseminate psychological interventions.


I trained in medicine at Oxford and in psychiatry at Edinburgh. I returned to Oxford in 1979. Initially I was supported by the Medical Research Council, and then from 1984 to 2017 by Wellcome (Wellcome Senior Lectureship / Wellcome Principal Research Fellowship). .

I have been been a governor of Wellcome and I was a founder trustee of the mental health research charity MQ.  I have twice been a Fellow at Stanford’s Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences.  I have received the AT Beck Prize from the Academy of Cognitive Therapy and the Lifetime Achievement and Outstanding Researcher Awards from the Academy of Eating Disorders.  

RESEARCH ON THE use of DIgital technology to deliver and disSEMINATe PSYCHOLOGICAL TREATMENTS

This work has three main strands. The first has been on the development of a online method for training therapists to deliver complex psychological treatments (Fairburn and Cooper, 2011).  The new method, termed “web-based training,” has been found to be acceptable and effective.  It provides a scalable means of simultaneously training large numbers of geographically dispersed therapists at low cost. 

The second strand is concerned with the conversion of therapist-delivered psychological treatments into autonomous digital interventions for delivery direct to the public (Fairburn and Patel, 2014, 2017).  This work is at an early stage.  A digital version of the leading psychological treatment for eating disorders (CBT-E) is currently undergoing preliminary testing. The treatment is termed CBTe. 

Closely aligned to this work is a longstanding collaboration with Professor Vikram Patel and his colleagues in India.  This has focused on developing and evaluating scalable psychological treatments for use in low-resource settings.  The treatments are designed to be delivered by lay counsellors and have proved to be remarkably effective given their low intensity (Patel et al, 2017).  Most recently, this work has extended to the development of scalable ways of training lay counsellors to deliver such treatments. 

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