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Does group therapy work for eating disorders?

Eating disorders exist in a special class of mental health concerns.

While something like mild anxiety is definitely serious and needs to be addressed by a professional, eating disorders can cause direct and acute physical harm - which makes early detection and treatment particularly important.

There are many ways to treat an eating disorder, which vary depending on the severity and particulars of a given case. Sometimes, one-on-one sessions during a brief course of CBT are sufficient to reduce symptoms. Other times, a therapist might recommend supplementing individual sessions with group therapy.

But how exactly does group therapy work for an eating disorder? Are there any benefits to a group therapy session over an individual one?

For starters, if you are worried that you might have an eating disorder, your first step should be to get in touch with a healthcare professional. Getting help early is essential.

But if you are currently undergoing treatment, or you're just curious about group therapy for eating disorders, then let this article serve as your guide.

Key Takeaways:

  • Group therapy is effective for many mental health conditions, including eating disorders.
  • Group therapy can be a safe place for those with eating disorders to learn more about their condition as well as coping strategies to help.
  • Group therapy can be used to supplement and, in some cases, replace individual therapy.

Eating Disorder Group Therapy Resources on This Page:

What defines an eating disorder?

Can therapy in general help with an eating disorder?

Does group therapy work for eating disorders?

Group Therapy in Austin: Williamsburg Therapy Group

What defines an eating disorder?

People who have never had an eating disorder tend to believe they're exactly like the way the media portrays them, which is to say they think all eating disorders are about not eating.

This is not the case. In fact, by definition, an eating disorder is any mental health condition that results in consistent disturbances in eating as well as physical or mental impairment.

Eating disorders, then, are as varied and diverse as any other mental health condition.

Some of the most common eating disorders are:

  • Anorexia nervosa
  • Bulimia nervosa
  • Pica
  • Aviodant/restrictive food intake disorder
  • Binge-eating disorder

Some disorders involve not eating, like anorexia and avoidant/restrictive food intake disorders. But others, like binge-eating disorders, involve eating too much. Still others, like Pica, are defined by eating things that are not food.

Clearly, then, since eating disorders are so different from each other, there is no one-size-fits-all treatment. People struggling with eating disorders are given tailored treatment plans and specific action items to ensure they have the best possible chance of recovery.

Can therapy in general help with an eating disorder?

Overall, yes. Therapy has been shown to be effective in reducing the symptoms of eating disorders.

Interesting, there is no one form of therapy that is equally effective for all eating disorders. For example, cognitive behavioral therapy was shown to be best for adults with binge-eating disorder and bulimia nervosa, whereas family-based treatment was shown to be best for children and adolescents with anorexia or bulimia.

The most likely reason for this is that each eating disorder has a different psychological mechanism behind it.

The traumas and internal dialogues that contribute to anorexia nervosa, for example, are far different from those of binge-eating.

Even within the same disorder, patients vary widely on the particulars of their cases. Some people with anorexia may be able to trace their disorder to depictions of eating in the media, while others may trace it back to a parent or guardian's comments or behaviors.

Because of this variety of contributing factors as well as the myriad ways eating disorders can manifest, it makes sense that treatment plans need to be tailored on a case-by-case basis and that one form of therapy may be more effective than another for a given disorder.

But that's for individual therapy. What about group therapy?

Does group therapy work for eating disorders?

In short, yes: group therapy can be beneficial for most patients with eating disorders. Note that, before joining a group therapy session for an eating disorder, you should consult with your therapist to ensure it will be safe and effective for you.

In fact, there is some evidence to show that supplementing individual therapy with group therapy can actually increase the effectiveness of therapeutic treatment in general.

Why is group therapy effective for eating disorders?

Group therapy is effective not only for eating disorders, but for most other mental health concerns as well. There are a few exceptions to this, so make sure you talk to a mental health professional before attending group therapy.

Specifically for eating disorders, group therapy can be a great way for patients to realize they aren't alone. Eating disorders, being driven so often by social stimuli (media, friends, family members) often make the people who have them feel isolated and alone. Hearing stories from other people can help patients relate to people in a safe and constructive way.

It's also worth noting that, unfortunately, many eating disorders arise due to pressure from one's social circle: the need to be thin, for example, can come from constantly comparing oneself to one's friends. In group therapy, patients can have social interactions that do not (or should not) contribute to or reinforce any factors behind the disorder. Group sessions are guided by a licensed professional in order to ensure this.

Group therapy has a number of other benefits outside of the interpersonal and clinical ones.

  • Group therapy sessions can be more affordable than individual therapy, since costs are diffused among many members.
  • Group therapy sessions can create an air of accountability, boosting the likelihood that you continue going to sessions.
  • Most therapists know of well-established and trustworthy groups that they can refer you to in order to supplement your individual therapy.

Talk to a mental health professional to determine whether group therapy may be right for you.

Group Therapy in Austin: Williamsburg Therapy Group

Williamsburg Therapy Group is proud to offer group therapy for our local Austin community. Led by a licensed, doctoral-level psychologist, our Interpersonal Process Group is perfect for those who want to work on how they relate to the people around them.

Book a Therapy Session in Austin Today

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