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Learn more about the results we get at Within

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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.

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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.


  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.


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