Whether you seek eating disorder treatment in a residential, inpatient, or outpatient setting, group therapy can be a very beneficial component of your recovery. Just as individual therapy offers a safe space for emotional processing and guidance within an intimate therapeutic relationship, group therapy provides similar and also unique advantages to facilitate one’s freedom from their eating disorder. Here are some therapeutic benefits of group therapy in eating disorder recovery:
Recognizing That You’re Not Alone:
Having an eating disorder can make you feel isolated, stigmatized, misunderstood, and different. Connecting to others can be incredibly challenging if you do not feel heard or understood, and because others without eating disorders often have a hard time grasping your experience. Subsequently, you may feel as if you are the only one that is suffering from an eating disorder, which can trigger feelings of helplessness.
By participating in group therapy, you’ll recognize as others and you share your stories and experiences, that there are common themes in your lives: your relationship to food and your body, family struggles, life traumas, and other mental health concerns. Furthermore, with these similar experiences comes a common pain and longing for a better life. Almost immediately, you can gather that you are not alone in your struggle.
With this feeling of togetherness you can experience in a group, you can recognize that you are not the only one trying to fight your eating disorder, but that now it has become a common mission and purpose of the group. You are now part of a team, which makes you collectively stronger towards the eating disorder.
Building Trusting Relationships Outside of the Eating Disorder:
Having an eating disorder can feel like you’re in a toxic relationship that is hard to escape. As harmful as it is, the seemingly “protective” function of an eating disorder can keep you entrusted in it. Through the isolation that occurs with an eating disorder, sometimes this illness becomes the primary relationship in the person’s life. Thus, being around similar others in group therapy can help you begin trusting them, especially as they open up and demonstrate their vulnerability and humanity.
Moreover, as the eating disorder slowly becomes a shadow, your authentic self will emerge in the group; sharing your own truth and seeing it received and validated by others in a compassionate and nonjudgmental way can further facilitate the trusting nature of your new relationships. Slowly, the negative voice of the eating disorder can become replaced by the more encouraging voices of your group members and others invested in your care. As you begin to trust others and eventually yourself, you will loosen the eating disorder’s tight grip.
A common phrase in eating disorder recovery is “our secrets keep us sick.” Being part of a group intended as a safe space for vulnerability can encourage individuals to speak their truth and reveal their painful feelings and experiences. Having group members that are aware of your recovery goals can serve as inspiration to work towards them, and also ensures that you will be met with support, understanding, and guidance if you don’t. Furthermore, being part of a group forces you to come out of the familiar isolation of an eating disorder (even temporarily). Being able to show up (even if out of obligation) can help you feel as if you are a functional, active participant in society with a sense of purpose – something that the eating disorder can take away.
Learning from Others:
Engaging with other group members in recovery can provide invaluable learning experiences. Members can share the way they deal with negative thoughts and feelings, offer different perspectives, and share coping tools that have been effective for them. By seeing others’ journey during their recovery, regardless of what stage they’re in, you can gain strength and inspiration. Moreover, you can build your own recovery muscle by providing feedback, support, and encouragement to others and offering tools that facilitate your own recovery.
Bio: Bahar Moheban, M.A. is a clinical psychology doctoral candidate and registered psychological assistant in Torrance under the supervision of Dr. Nazanin Moali. She provides psychotherapy to individuals with eating disorders, body image concerns, and comorbid disorders. Bahar facilitates an Adult Binge Eating Recovery Group and Teen Eating Disorder Recovery Group. To cultivate a healthier relationship with food and body image, contact Bahar for group or individual therapy.