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Child & Family Mental Health & Developmental Neuroscience

Woman Looks at Autism App with ToddlerChild & Family Mental Health & Developmental Neuroscience is dedicated to caring for children, young adults, families and couples as well as researching the issues affecting these populations. We collaborate closely with our patients and other providers in the community to comprehensively address pediatric mental health needs. The Duke Children’s Evaluation Center (DCEC) provides care and referral coordination for all pediatric patients seeking mental health services at Duke.

We are dedicated to supporting the well-being of children, adolescents, young adults and families. This commitment is reflected across our clinical, research and educational initiatives.

  • Clinical services including individual, family, and group therapy, medical consultation and medication management. The DCEC is the primary portal for new appointments.
  • Educational opportunities including graduate clinical training, postdoctoral trainingchild psychiatry fellowshipspsychology internships and residency rotations
  • Research in areas such as anxiety, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism spectrum disorders, developmental epidemiology, eating disorders, mood disorders, suicide prevention, substance use and trauma. 

Faculty include leaders in the field who conduct studies to better understand and treat developmental, behavioral and mental health concerns in children and adolescents. Pediatric mental health services at Duke are provided by faculty and clinical staff from across the department’s clinical and research programs. Evidence-based treatments ensure that our patients receive the most current and effective therapies available.

Duke Center for Autism & Brain Development

The Duke Center for Autism & Brain Development is dedicated to helping people with autism and related developmental disabilities reach their full potential, thereby allowing society to benefit from the talents and diversity that people with autism and other developmental disabilities offer. We are a group of dedicated clinicians and scientists who work in partnership with people with autism and related disabilities, families and the broader community to realize this goal.

Duke Center for Eating Disorders

Eating Disorder Research Laboratory

Researchers in the Eating Disorder Research Laboratory, led by Nancy Zucker, PhD, are interested in how individuals learn to detect and decipher the signals from their bodies (e.g., of hunger, of emotional experience) and use these signals to guide their behavior. We study individuals for whom this learning somehow goes awry: individuals struggling with eating disorders (e.g., anorexia nervosa, ARFID, selective eating, pediatric binge eating), those with chronic medical conditions that may disrupt or complicate this learning (e.g., pediatric gastrointestinal disorders or pediatric cancer) or neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism. 

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Center for Eating Disorders Community Website

Managing an eating disorder can seem all-consuming. Having to approach fearful situations multiple times a day, every day, can be hard to keep up with. Yet, navigating and mastering this challenging journey is a life transforming experience, one that may provide the foundation for a vital and fulfilling life.

We don’t want you to have to take this journey alone. Our goal is to help you through that journey step-by-step to ensure the journey is a little less lonely—and perhaps even a little goofy.

The goal of this website is to offer information and tools to individuals who are affected by an eating disorder and to their families. As we launch the site, we focus on those who seek information and tools for Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID). In the future, we will expand the site to include information and tools for those who have Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, Binge Eating Disorder, and related disorders related to an individual’s disconnection from the experience of their body.

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Eating Disorder Treatments at Duke

The Duke Center for Eating Disorders provides comprehensive, individualized treatment for the entire spectrum of eating and body image issues across the lifespan beginning with toddler-aged children. Conditions we treat include:

  • Anorexia nervosa
  • Bulimia nervosa
  • Binge eating disorder (including pediatric binge eating)
  • Avoidance Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (including selective eating)
  • Eating issues that result from a medical condition (such as pediatric cancer or issues of the gastrointestinal or endocrine system)
  • Body image dysphoria (individuals uncomfortable living in their bodies but lacking eating symptoms)
  • Eating issues associated with autism spectrum disorders

The treatment of eating disorders is greatly helped by the loving support of friends, partners and family. Whenever possible, our philosophy is to incorporate as many individuals as is appropriate or beneficial for a given individual. Our experience is that families come away stronger when they participate in our program. 


Individual and Family Therapies

When your first appointment is scheduled with one of our therapists, you will receive an extensive diagnostic interview, a brief (or long) neuropsychological battery depending on which you request, and some questionnaires to complete about your experience of your body. After gathering this information and consulting with our treatment team, we will then conduct a feedback session in which we indicate the level of treatment that is appropriate, the model of treatment, what you can expect about the length of treatment, and how you will be able to measure treatment progress.

Empirically Validated Treatments Implemented at the DCED

At the DCED, our therapists are trained in empirically validated treatments for the management of eating disorders.  While we recommend these based on the clinical presentation of an individual, often individuals come to us requesting a specific form of therapy. We offer a brief description here, but are happy to answer questions about the nature of these therapies.
  • Family Therapy of Adolescent Anorexia Nervosa or Bulimia Nervosa based on the Maudsley Method: This treatment emphasizes the importance of the family unit in the management of a child and adolescent eating disorder. In essence, we help parents to conduct the form of supportive meal support that occurs in a more intensive eating disorder program while working with the family on approaching challenging situations.
  • Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT): Under the leadership of Rhonda Merwin, PhD, a certified ACT trainer, our therapists are trained to implement this acceptance-based cognitive behavior therapy that helps individuals to build a rich and value-guided life even in the presence of unwanted or aversive experience.
  • Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT): This advanced cognitive-behavioral therapy is based on a theoretical model in which an individual's history of invalidation leads to a pervasive distrust and fear of emotional experience that sometimes promotes extreme behaviors to regulate that experience. We work closely with Zachary Rosenthal, PhD, and the Cognitive & Dialectical Training Program to provide all the components of the DBT model.
  • Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Behavior Therapy: Under the leadership of Noga Zerubavel, PhD, this treatment combines advances in cognitive-behavioral treatment with mindfulness based approaches. In so doing, it helps an individual to become more aware and accepting of ongoing joyous and aversive experiences so that life becomes more vital from moment to moment.
  • Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy (AEDP): Under the leadership of Laura Weisberg, PhD, this treatment builds on what is known about physiological changes that occur with the experience of traumatic life events. By helping individuals to activate the restorative branch of their nervous system in the presence of aversive remembrances, the individual is taught to more fully experience the full range of emotions rather than being closed off due to past traumatic events.


Empirically Validated Treatments Developed at the DCED

We are also known as innovators of treatment development based on emerging knowledge about the developmental neuroscience of eating disorders under the leadership of center director, Nancy Zucker, PhD. Some examples of the therapies we have developed and tested and that individuals can have access to include:

  • Appetite awareness training for the treatment of pediatric binge eating
  • “VOLCRAVO” craving exposure for the treatment of pediatric obesity
  • Group parent training for the management of adolescent eating disorders
  • "Feeling and Body Investigators" for children with elevated somatic symptoms and abdominal pain
  • "Sensory Scientists" is our treatment for individuals with selective eating or ARFID


Selective Eating Disorder/Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID)

Nationally recognized experts, we have decades of experience improving our patients’ health and eating habits. Our pioneering program for adult picky eaters has been featured in Time magazine and The Wall Street Journal. Research results and our program for children with selective eating have been featured by ABC, Nightline, NPR and NBC and more.

Parent Weekend Workshop is a two-day educational workshop for parents who want to better understand the dynamics of this eating disorder and how it affects their family. Parents leave with a "toolbox" to take home and are encouraged on how to communicate more effectively, practice even more patience and help their child become a "food scientist".   

Immersive Family Program is a five-day program for parents and their child who has selective eating. A lot takes place during the week:  individual sessions with a therapist for parents and children separately, a family session, educational lectures presented by Nancy Zucker, PhD, center director, daily group food therapy sessions, an appointment with both a medical doctor and an occupational therapist and several group sessions for parents as well as children.  

Duke Center for the Study of Suicide Prevention & Intervention

The Duke Center for the Study of Suicide Prevention & Intervention (CSSPI) represents a collaborative effort among several clinical research scientists at the Duke Child & Family Study Center to advance our understanding of the risk for suicidal behaviors and to reduce suicide attempts and suicide deaths. The CSSPI has three key missions: scientifically sound and innovative research, the study of evidence-based prevention and intervention, and education.

Duke Center for Developmental Epidemiology

At the Center for Developmental Epidemiology, we're working to advance the understanding of the origins, course and prevention of mental illness across the course of life. Our longest-running study, the Great Smoky Mountains Study, is a longitudinal assessment of the development of psychiatric and substance abuse disorders and access to mental health care in a representative sample of 1,400 children and adolescents living in the southeastern United States. Other studies include the Duke Early Childhood Study and the Preschool Health & Well-being Study.

Duke Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) Program

The Duke Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) Program aims to integrate innovative and state-of-the-art research into comprehensive and compassionate clinical care for individuals across the lifespan who are affected by ADHD.


Child & Family Health Collaboration

We're committed to creating a unified continuum of care for our community's children and their families, as they grow from infancy to adulthood. The central goals of our Integrated Pediatric Mental Health (IPMH) initiative are to streamline access to care within the Duke system and to work closely with Duke and community partners to address systemic challenges, provide support and share information. Our vision is to help Durham become a national model for effective and collaborative pediatric mental health care.

Faculty and staff, along with collaborators, work to strengthen the capacity of Duke Health and the Durham community to provide comprehensive mental health care to our youngest community members. Our collaborations focus on improving children's mental health, reducing the need for intensive hospital-based care and improving school attendance and academic performance.

We are grateful to have strong relationships with other divisions and departments within Duke, to participate in local and state partnerships, and to collaborate closely with local non-profits, social service agencies and mental health providers.

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