Interpersonal group therapy, also commonly referred to as a “Process group,” is a powerful way for those struggling with anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, or any other eating disorder type to learn more about themselves and their ways of relating with others while in recovery. Process groups are often exciting and challenging, and are almost always a powerful vehicle for promoting personal growth.
How does a Process group work?
Interpersonal therapy groups are unstructured groups in that there is no formal agenda for each group meeting. The leader does not begin the session with a question and group discussions are not topical in nature.
Instead, members are asked to mindfully pay attention to their thoughts, feelings, and reactions as they occur moment to moment throughout the group, and to report on what they notice. While this seems very simple, people often have a difficult time with this task. Most of us are so accustomed to acting on our thoughts and feelings that we seldom slow down to notice what is going on “behind the scenes” in our minds. Nevertheless, what goes on in the back of our minds has an impact on how we interact in our everyday lives.
How does paying attention to my thoughts, feelings, and reactions help me?
By paying attention to our thoughts, feelings, and reactions as they occur in group, we are inclined to:
- Notice more clearly the emotional patterns and thoughts (the mental scripts) that guide our behavior but often occur at the edge of our awareness.
- Learn about the relational patterns we are prone to creating with others and why we create these patterns.
- Develop greater flexibility in how we relate to ourselves and others.
- Deepen our empathy for others’ experiences
Importantly, we develop the ability to experience and understand what is going on in our minds and bodies without immediately acting upon what we experience.
Through experience in the group, participants also come to understand that it is not only okay, but healthy, to experience the full range of emotions without having to respond automatically to internal feelings. This helps participants become more able to notice their emotions without acting upon them. Over time they become free to choose how they respond in various situations, and this freedom helps them to create the outcomes they desire in relationships. In short, they learn how to react less (an unconscious process) and respond more (a conscious process).
The Process group is the perfect place for one to safely experiment with new ways of expressions. Because members are encouraged to express feelings and thoughts openly, their interactions with others can help them to learn about different relational styles. Often, the process group can provide a sense of closeness and belonging over time, as well as an opportunity to connect with others and develop healthy intimacy. The hope is that each member will eventually be able to apply behaviors they have learned in their process group to their daily lives.
Process groups at Aspire Wellness and Recovery Center are lead by licensed eating disorder recovery specialists. This is what you can expect in a typical process group, whether enrolled in our Intensive Outpatient program or our Partial Hospitalization program:
- The therapist will make observations about group behaviors and communication during the group session. Individuals in the group will be encouraged to explore their thoughts and feelings, as well as their self-awareness throughout the group discussions.
- Generally, each participant will experience an increases awareness of opportunities for fear and innovative positive behaviors.
- Group participants will have increased opportunities for more interactive communications with others in the group, often followed by a heightened expectation that other members will be participating more as well in the group interaction.
Process groups vs. Support groups
It is not uncommon for interpersonal group therapy to be confused with support groups, because both types of groups involve participants discussing their thoughts and feelings on some level. However, the goals of each type of group, and the expertise required in the facilitation of the group are vastly different.
Support groups have the main objective of being, not surprisingly, supportive. They involve groups of people sharing their feelings and experiences and lending encouragement to one another in a supportive environment. Anyone can lead a support group, because they do not require therapist facilitation in order for participants to benefit from the encouragement and sharing that generally occurs.
Process Groups on the other hand must be lead by an experienced therapist who has had training facilitating them. At Aspire Wellness Center, licensed therapists not only guide the group to a certain extent, but they also help the participants work through relational issues and examine the communication methods that often lead to psychological symptoms and/or dissatisfaction in relationships. The ultimate goal of a Process group is to help participants work through their relational issues so that they may relate better with others, and consequently, feel better about themselves.
Unlike support groups, Process groups can benefit individuals suffering from a broad range of issues that are contributing or to or exacerbating their eating disorder behaviors, such as:
- Often feeling angry, frustrated, or dissatisfied in relationships
- Having difficulty trusting others
- Struggling to forge close (or meaningful) relationships
- Feeling that one often has to please others
- Relying on alcohol or drugs to socialize or
- Relying on alcohol or drugs to suppress negative thoughts and feelings
- Struggling to communicate one’s thoughts, feelings, and needs directly
- Being controlling (or easily controlled) in relationships
- Feeling that one’s relationships are shallow
- Experiencing anxiety in social situations
- Frequently experiencing loneliness
- Manipulating others to get one’s needs met
- Having trouble with self-esteem
While not exhaustive, this list captures the broad range of issues that can be addressed and, over time, their negative impact minimized through regular participation in properly facilitated Process groups.