What is group therapy and how does it work?

Group therapy is a daunting prospect. Sitting around in a room filled with (initially) strangers and sharing your feelings? That takes courage!

Eminent psychologist and psychotherapist, Irvin Yalom, once said about group therapy:

“Members of a cohesive group feel warmth and comfort in the group and a sense of belongingness; they value the group and feel in turn that they are valued, accepted, and supported by other members.” – Irvin Yalom, The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy

So, what exactly is group therapy, and how does it work for people with eating disorders? We sat our Senior Psychotherapist, Romy, down to learn more…

What is group therapy?

“Group therapy is in essence a collective, healing space. It is a space within which members negotiate group norms in the framework of boundaries in order to form trust amongst each other and slowly share experiences for the collective to ‘bear witness’ to.

“I often talk about how, as human beings, we are wired to exist in community. Eating disorders thrive on isolation and creating collective spaces in which group members can invite other people into their internal experiences is incredibly healing in recovery.”

Is group therapy something to be scared of?

“Fear is part of being human. Anything that is unfamiliar can be scary, and validating this fear is especially important in encouraging the group member to name his/her/their fear in the group space, in order to negotiate how he/she/they need to make the space feel safe.

“I always ask clients to consider that change always happens when we engage in shifting a pattern. As we expand our comfort zone, we have to slowly expand our window of tolerance – how do we engage in unfamiliar activities (like expressing vulnerability in group spaces) in ways that feel tolerable to us.

“In its simplest form it’s about small steps in creating change, and group therapy is about creating internal change for oneself with the support of the collective.”

What’s expected of me in group therapy?

“What is beautiful about group therapy is that expectations of one another and of the group space is negotiated amongst the group. It’s a great way of practicing how to claim space for oneself within communities, and in doing so, group members realise that they can claim space for themselves whilst also holding space for others. This is an important realisation for eating disorder clients in recovery.”

Whilst many feel understandably apprehensive at first, the group therapy process offers an invaluable experience from which clients get support, feedback and grow confidence. Find out more about our treatment approaches at Orri, here.

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