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The sibling relationships of bulimic women

Karen Gail Lewis, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This study explores the role of bulimia in a woman's relationship with her siblings. While there is a growing body of literature on siblings and on bulimia, there is little written about the overlap between these two topics. This study is an attempt to fill that gap. Thirty-two women who had participated in an Intensive Treatment Program (ITP) for bulimia were the subjects. There were four groups of eight women each. Their comments about their sibling relationships were tracked through five components of the program: group therapy, multi-family therapy, family seminar, genograms, one year follow-up. All of their comments related to their siblings were transcribed from the video recordings of the therapies and the seminar. Each of the sibling comments was sorted into categories of common messages. The study reports on all four ITP groups, and gives details about the women from one ITP group and their sibling relationships are given. Transcripts from their group therapy and multi-family therapy, and their comments from the seminar on family roles are reported. Comments from a one year multi-family therapy follow-up questionnaire from women in several ITP groups are also reported. Comments about siblings were categorized into seven types of communication messages: equalizing, dirty fighting, connecting, flagging, deflecting, separating, and peacemaking. Selection of the messages into the categories were checked by independent raters. There was a high consistency in the categorization. All but one woman had at least one message, and over half of them had either two or three types of messages for one or more siblings. Three themes for understanding the use of bulimia in the sibling relationship are highlighted: bulimia as an indirect expression of affect to a sibling; as a means of getting out of a complementary role with a sibling, and as an expression of an immobilizing ambivalence in the sibling relationship. Although a descriptive study, the results suggest that sibling relationships are one important factor in the onset or maintenance of a woman's bulimia.

Subject Area

Educational psychology

Recommended Citation

Lewis, Karen Gail, "The sibling relationships of bulimic women" (1988). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI8823727.