Text Link

Learn more about the results we get at Within

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Suspendisse varius enim in eros elementum tristique. Duis cursus, mi quis viverra ornare, eros dolor interdum nulla, ut commodo diam libero vitae erat. Aenean faucibus nibh et justo cursus id rutrum lorem imperdiet. Nunc ut sem vitae risus tristique posuere.

Learn more about the results we get at Within

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Suspendisse varius enim in eros elementum tristique. Duis cursus, mi quis viverra ornare, eros dolor interdum nulla, ut commodo diam libero vitae erat. Aenean faucibus nibh et justo cursus id rutrum lorem imperdiet. Nunc ut sem vitae risus tristique posuere.

Group therapy for eating disorder treatment

Eating disorders are complex mental health conditions that have deep impacts on many people. By some estimates, these conditions will impact nearly 29 million people—or 9% of the American population—at some point in their lifetime.1

But thankfully, there are a number of treatment options that have been found to help.

Last updated on 
June 2, 2023
June 2, 2023
Group therapy for eating disorder treatment
In this article

One of the eating disorder treatment programs many people find beneficial is group therapy. Generally used alongside other types of care, this therapeutic method can be an important part of eating disorder recovery, offering someone a sense of community and a strong support system to lean on during an emotionally, physically, and mentally taxing process.

What is group therapy?

Group therapy is a form of psychotherapy, or talk therapy, where people living with similar challenges gather to discuss their experiences under the supervision of a therapist or counselor.

People attending group therapy for an eating disorder can find a group specific to their condition, or may choose to join a more general meeting that is inclusive of all eating disorders. Similarly, groups can be designated by those struggling with certain conditions, or for those who want to work on skills for improving certain issues, such as loneliness, low self-esteem, or anger management.2

Group therapy helps you share your own experiences while also hearing from others with similar challenges.

The idea behind group therapy is to help individuals continue to grow, heal, and learn by offering them a source of peer support and a sounding board. Sharing one's own experiences can help keep someone accountable or even work through their own confusion and uncertainties, and hearing about the experiences of others can help change someone's perspective or give them a new approach to problems.2

Many groups include patients at different levels of recovery, to help facilitate these kinds of mutual revelations.3

How to treat eating disorders with group therapy

Group therapy can be helpful for people struggling with eating disorders in many ways, throughout many stages of their recovery.

Those who are just starting out in treatment may feel alone, scared, or still unsure of their recovery process. The opportunity to hear from others who are going through the same experience, as well as those who are further along in the process, can help build confidence, and offer a sense of hope, encouraging patients to stay in treatment, which is crucial for recovery.3

For those with a long-term eating disorder, group therapy can be an effective way to keep themselves accountable, and to keep their disordered eating behavior in check. They can also find purpose in offering advice to those who are just getting started in treatment.3

And some types of group therapy are meant to help everyone learn at the same pace. Psychoeducational groups and skills development groups generally involve a more structured curriculum, with the counselor or therapist acting partly as a teacher, disseminating lessons on maladaptive behaviors and various healthier coping mechanisms.3

Efficacy of group therapy in healing eating disorders

Group psychotherapy has been found effective for helping people improve their attitudes toward food and eating, attain a healthy weight, and maintain progress long after they leave active treatment.

One study found that a 12-week psychoeducational course for patients with binge eating disorder helped group members not only achieve a healthy weight, but improve body image, and experience less image avoidance and concerns about physical appearance. Interpersonal sensitivity, which helps cue people in to body language and other non-verbal cues, was also improved for this group.4

Another study looked at the long-term prospects of group therapy for eating disorders, and also found promising results. This one concluded that participants who had completed a group therapy course of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) were more likely, 10 years later, to still be considered in good health, compared to those who had dropped out of the course.5

What to expect in group therapy

Every group therapy session can differ, depending on the type of group therapy being practiced and the person monitoring the discussion. The licensed therapist supervising the group may act more as a moderator, more as a teacher, or somewhere in between.3

The therapist may set an intention for the session, such as discussing self-care or eating habits. Other sessions may start with introductions and updates from individual members. And others may include lesson plans, group activities, or take on more of a free-form discussion style.

At the end of a session, a therapist may assign "homework," to encourage participants to work on aspects of their treatment outside of therapy. Patients may be asked to journal their feelings and thoughts about food and meals, try out different coping mechanisms, or practice different eating behaviors throughout the week.

In most cases, group therapy sessions meet once a week, in-person or online, to discuss the challenges and progression of eating disorder treatment from the week before. And the size of groups can range, with sessions now regularly offered both in person and virtually.

Group therapy for eating disorders

Benefits of group therapy

For someone living with an eating disorder, group therapy can provide various benefits, including: 

  • A sense of community. When a person is living with an eating disorder, they may feel alone in their struggles. Group therapy lets them know they’re not alone in their journey, and introduces them to other people they can talk to about their experiences.
  • A strong support system. Individuals receive support and offer support to their peers through group therapy. Getting support can foster a sense of hope, trust, and belonging. Giving support can provide a sense of catharsis, altruism, and personal growth, allowing individuals to use what they’ve learned to help someone else. 
  • Increasing socialization: A symptom of many eating disorders is self-isolation. Group therapy helps participants work on their socialization and communication skills to become more confident interacting with others. 

Limitations of group therapy 

Group therapy is an excellent option for many people who struggle with eating disorders. But the method is not without its limitations, including:

  • Limited confidentiality. While there is confidentiality within the group—meaning members can’t discuss what other people have shared outside the session—group therapy involves sharing sensitive thoughts, feelings, and experiences with many people, which can be intimidating or scary.
  • Less personal: Depending on the size of the group and the time allocated to the session, not everyone may have the opportunity to share and receive guidance each session. There’s also limited time for individuals to unpack their personal challenges the way they may in an individual therapy session.
  • Social anxiety: While group therapy can help individuals with socialization skills, starting in group therapy may cause social anxiety to those who are uncomfortable in group settings. 
Group therapy at Within

Group therapy at Within Health incorporates all of the core modalities, including acceptance and commitment therapy groups (ACT), dialectical behavior therapy groups (DBT), and cognitive behavioral therapy groups, among many others.

Our clinical care team at Within Health wanted to be intentional about creating a group feel in a virtual space. It is for this reason that some of our group sessions may include group meals, or activities, in a shared virtual space.

Each of our groups are kept fairly small, as we believe it is important to keep sizes manageable, to help promote client accountability.

Call us today | (866) 293-0041

Disclaimer about "overeating": Within Health hesitatingly uses the word "overeating" because it is the term currently associated with this condition in society, however, we believe it inherently overlooks the various psychological aspects of this condition which are often interconnected with internalized diet culture, and a restrictive mindset about food. For the remainder of this piece, we will therefore be putting "overeating" in quotations to recognize that the diagnosis itself pathologizes behavior that is potentially hardwired and adaptive to a restrictive mindset.

Disclaimer about weight loss drugs: Within does not endorse the use of any weight loss drug or behavior and seeks to provide education on the insidious nature of diet culture. We understand the complex nature of disordered eating and eating disorders and strongly encourage anyone engaging in these behaviors to reach out for help as soon as possible. No statement should be taken as healthcare advice. All healthcare decisions should be made with your individual healthcare provider.

Resources

  1. Report: Economic costs of eating disorders. (2021, September 27). Harvard School of Public Health. Retrieved April 2022.
  2. Johnson, B. (2019, October 31). Psychotherapy: Understanding group therapy. American Psychological Association. Retrieved April 2022. 
  3. Malhotra, A., Baker, J. (2022, December 13). Group Therapy. Stat Pearls. Accessed May 2023.
  4. Liquori, S., Faidutti, G., Garzitto, M., Saetti, L., Bendotti, M., & Balestrieri, M. (2022). Efficacy of a Group Psychoeducation Treatment in Binge Eating Disorder: An Open-Label Study. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 13, 822282.
  5. Okamoto, Y., Miyake, Y., Nagasawa, I., & Shishida, K. (2017). A 10-year follow-up study of completers versus dropouts following treatment with an integrated cognitive-behavioral group therapy for eating disorders. Journal of Eating Disorders, 5, 52.

FAQs

Further reading

Black History Month spotlight: Joycelyn Elders—Building a stronger future for our children

Black History Month is an important time of year to reflect on the many unsung accomplishments of African...

Black History Month spotlight: Paul Cornely—Keeping the Civil Rights Movement strong

They say if you have your health, you have everything. And Dr. Paul Cornely worked to ensure everyone could...

Interpersonal psychotherapy for eating disorders

Eating disorders like anorexia nervosa (AN), binge eating disorder (BED), and bulimia nervosa (BN) can...

Black History Month spotlight: Mary Kenner—The unsung pioneer of women’s health

While scientific advancement is generally considered a collaborative effort, there are many unsung heroes...

Binge eating recovery

Binge eating disorder (BED) is the most common eating disorder in the United States, characterized by...

ARFID treatment at home

Avoidant restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID) is a common eating disorder, though not widely understood...

How to treat eating disorders at home

Eating disorders are serious mental health conditions that affect millions of people around the world. In...

Bulimia treatment at home

Bulimia nervosa (BN) is an eating disorder characterized by cycles of binge eating and purging, with these...

Anorexia home treatment

Treating anorexia nervosa (AN) is often a tricky prospect. While weight restoration and recovery from this...

Within Summit Q&A with Kevin Hines: The power of lived experience

Many people have said this story saved or changed their lives. People recognize they too can overcome...

Eating disorder support groups: Finding healing in community

Eating disorders like binge eating disorder (BED), anorexia nervosa (AN), and bulimia nervosa (BN), can be...

Within Summit Author round-up

Looking to deepen your wisdom from the Within Summit? Speakers from this year and last year’s Summit share...

Within Summit Q&A with Dr. Luana Marques: Understanding avoidance

I grew up in Brazil with a single mother, and moved in with my grandmother at 15. I faced a lot of adversity..

Within Summit Q&A with Dr. Kate Truitt: The power of gentle, soothing touch

Anybody can learn the self-havening protocols, which involve different kinds of gentle, soothing touch, and...

Within Summit Q&A with Eric Wood: Envisioning a new model for college campus counseling

The trauma of the pandemic has definitely contributed to the increased need for mental health services...

Emotion-focused therapy for eating disorders

Emotion-focused therapy (EFT), sometimes called emotionally-focused therapy, is a type of therapy that...

Experiential therapy for eating disorders

Experiential therapy is a form of insight-driven or action-based therapy that immerses a patient in an...

Comparing the different levels of care in eating disorder treatment

While all eating disorders are serious mental health conditions, eating disorder symptoms may present at...

Can a therapist diagnose an eating disorder?

Struggling with an undiagnosed eating disorder is often a difficult thing to talk about. Even if you're...

Bulimia self-help recovery

Like other eating disorders, bulimia nervosa (BN) has the power to significantly affect a person’s life and...

10 ways to be gentle with yourself during eating disorder recovery

Eating disorder behaviors are often characterized by profound shame, guilt, and isolation. Eating disorder...

Overcoming food aversion

Food aversion is an intense dislike of a particular food. People may experience this emotion with foods...

How to choose the best eating disorder treatment program for your needs

When it comes to choosing an eating disorder treatment program, people’s specific needs may vary. A program...

Using radically open dialectical behavior therapy to treat eating disorders

Treating eating disorders is often challenging, but radically open dialectical behavior therapy (RO DBT)...

Practicing mindfulness and mindful eating

The practice of mindfulness originated through Buddhist meditation, but its introduction into Western...

The health benefits of pet ownership

Coming home to a fur baby or animal companion can feel like coming home to unconditional love. And the...

How chanting helps with meaningful living

Chanting is a type of meditation that has been part of human behavior for thousands of years, practiced by...

Meditation and eating disorder recovery

Practicing meditation can help with internal healing by offering the opportunity to bring mind, body, and...

How yoga can improve mental health & help with eating disorder recovery

Practiced for thousands of years, yoga has long been heralded for its potential to improve mental, physical...

Eating disorder recovery and meaningful living

Eating disorder recovery is an incredibly personal and vulnerable journey, and everyone’s process may look...

The importance of intersectionality in eating disorder treatment and research

Eating disorders affect people of all genders, sexual orientations, races, cultures, weights, sizes, and...

Therapy for eating disorders

Overcoming an eating disorder can be a long and challenging journey. But there are many types of therapy...

Learning to develop distress tolerance skills

Life can be challenging, as it’s full of ups and downs, meaning most people will have to navigate through...

Exposure therapy for eating disorders

Exposure therapy is a type of therapy used to treat eating disorders, phobias, and anxiety. It is typically...

Using self-compassion and radical acceptance to overcome perfectionism in eating disorder recovery

Perfectionism is a trait many people can have and is associated with eating disorders. And often...

Learn about eating disorder treatment

Eating disorders are serious mental health conditions that can impact all aspects of someone's physical...

Aftercare for eating disorders

When you approach the end of your residential or partial hospital program...

How to find a therapist for eating disorders

Eating disorders like anorexia nervosa (AN), bulimia nervosa (BN), and binge eating disorder (BED) are...

Helpful interventions for eating disorders

If you suspect your loved one is suffering from an eating disorder, it can...

Trauma-informed care for eating disorders

There is a strong link between eating disorders, like anorexia nervosa...

Group therapy for eating disorders

Group therapy, sometimes called group psychotherapy, is not a specific type of therapy but rather a term to...

What to look for in a quality eating disorder treatment program

With so many eating disorder treatment programs available today, both...

Exercise addiction treatment & recovery

Exercise addiction is an eating disorder that can do serious damage to the body, with up...

Night eating syndrome treatment

Night eating syndrome (NES) is a highly disruptive eating disorder affecting as many as...

Treatment of pregorexia, pregnancy-related eating disorders

Pregnancy-related eating disorders, also called pregorexia, encompass any eating disorders...

Orthorexia treatment plan

Orthorexia nervosa (ON) is a serious eating disorder that can be very tricky to detect, as...

Diabulimia treatment & recovery

Diabulimia is a complex eating disorder that involves the deliberate underuse or restriction of insulin in...

Anorexia nervosa treatment therapy options with proven results

Anorexia nervosa (AN) is a serious mental health condition that manifests in a number of physical, mental...

Bulimia treatment therapy plans with proven results

Bulimia nervosa (BN) is a dangerous and potentially deadly disorder, affecting someone’s mental, physical...

How to find a binge eating disorder treatment plan

Treatment plans for binge eating disorder (BED)—or other eating disorders and mental health conditions—are...

ARFID treatment: avoidant restrictive food intake disorder

Avoidant restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID) is an eating disorder that involves a severely limited...

Self-help and eating disorder treatment

Human resolve can be a formidable force in any endeavor. Recovering from an...

Partial hospitalization programs for eating disorders

Partial hospitalization programs (PHPs) are highly-structured day therapy programs that can be used for...

Psychoanalysis

Psychoanalysis is a therapeutic practice that is sometimes used in the treatment...

Medical nutrition therapy for eating disorder recovery

Medical nutrition therapy (MNT) is an evidence-based treatment option for eating...

Intensive outpatient treatment for eating disorders

While all eating disorders are serious mental health conditions, symptoms span a spectrum of severity. To...

Inpatient care for eating disorders

Mental health conditions of all types, including eating disorders, occur on a spectrum of severity...

Exercise bulimia treatment and recovery

Exercise bulimia is not as frequently talked about or as well understood as other eating disorders. But...

Group therapy for eating disorder treatment

Eating disorders are complex mental health conditions that have deep impacts on many people. By some...

Family-based therapy for treating eating disorders

Family therapy, sometimes called family-based therapy (FBT), is an umbrella term for a group of therapy...

Exposure therapy for eating disorder treatment

Exposure therapy is a type of therapy used to treat numerous mental health conditions, including eating...

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) for eating disorders

Dialectical behavior therapy can effectively treat eating disorders by teaching...

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for eating disorders

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of psychological treatment for eating...

Cognitive emotional behavioral therapy

Cognitive emotional behavioral therapy (CEBT) is a talk therapy treatment that can help with many mental...

Art therapy for eating disorders treatment

Art therapy is a form of experiential therapy used to treat eating disorders...

The role of the care partner in ED recovery

Struggling with an eating disorder can be a lonely and isolating experience...

The importance of community during eating disorder recovery

Often, stories of eating disorder recovery focus on the individual, what they...