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RESEARCH ON EATING DISORDERS

I founded the Centre for Research on Eating Disorders at Oxford (CREDO).  Its work has led to the development of the three most effective treatments for adults with eating disorders.

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; 2017).

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 form of treatment delivery termed "guided self-help". This treatment approach was developed as a first-line approach to the treatment of recurrent binge eating (Carter and Fairburn, 1995). It was designed to support the use of the self-help book Overcoming Binge Eating (Fairburn, 1995; 2013)*. This combination has proved to be highly effective in the treatment of binge eating disorder and moderately effective as a treatment for bulimia nervosa. Guided self-help as a method of treatment delivery is now used in the treatment of many mental disorders.

Future Research

We are moving the focus of our work onto cases in the community. The goal is to detect cases early and intervene promptly. To this end we plan to develop a suite of digital interventions designed for large-scale, direct-to-user, delivery. These will be designed to be powerfully engaging and to deliver treatment procedures that are known to be effective. 

We are seeking funds to support this work.

*Overcoming Binge Eating (Fairburn, 2013) has been translated into Dutch, German, Italian, Japanese, Norwegian, Polish, Spanish, Swedish, and Turkish.  A Simplified Chinese version is in preparation.

Christopher Fairburn

Emeritus Professor of Psychiatry

Psychological treatment development and evaluation; Digital technology; Global mental health

RESEARCH ON DIGITAL TECHNOLOGY AND THE GLOBAL DISSEMINATION OF PSYCHOLOGICAL TREATMENTS

We are interested in the use of digital technology to deliver and disseminate psychological treatments.  This work has several strands, some of which are taking place in India.

First, we are interested in 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 undergoing preliminary tests.

Second, we have developed a digital method for training therapists.  This has been found to be popular and effective (Fairburn et al, 2017; Cooper et al, 2017).  It provides a scalable means of simultaneously training large numbers of geographically dispersed therapists and at low cost. 

The other lines of work are being led by Professor Vikram Patel and his colleagues in India. The focus is on developing and evaluating scalable psychological treatments for common mental disorders, primarily for use in low-resource settings. These treatments are being delivered by lay counsellors and they are proving to be remarkably effective (Patel et al, 2017; Nadkarni et al, 2017). We are shortly to evaluate a digital programme for training lay counsellors to deliver these interventions.

A new line of work is taking place in schools across Delhi. It is evaluating a novel stepped care intervention for teenagers with anxiety or depression.


MAIN RESEARCH INTERESTS

1. The development and evaluation of psychological treatments.  This work has mainly focused on eating disorders although more recently it has extended to include the psychological treatment of depression.

2. The use of digital technology to deliver and disseminate psychological treatments.

CAREER

I trained in medicine at Oxford and in psychiatry at Edinburgh. I returned to Oxford in 1979 and have been engaged in full-time clinical research since 1981. 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 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.  

Key publications

Recent publications

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