Eating disorders are serious mental illnesses that can have a severe or even fatal impact on a person’s physical health. People with eating disorders may have unhealthy eating patterns, disturbances in their relationship with food, and disturbances in their perception of their bodies. In this article, I discuss 15 eating disorder group therapy activities you can use with your clients.

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) has identified binge eating disorder and bulimia nervosa as common eating disorders. Anorexia Nervosa is less common; but still available in the US.

NIMH shared that the average age of onset for binge eating disorder was 21, and the average age of onset for bulimia nervosa and anorexia nervosa was 18.

Research shows that women are more likely to struggle with eating disorders than men. Although not as common, men can struggle significantly with eating disorders. The National Comorbidity Survey Replication (NCS-R) found that between 2001 and 2003, eating disorders were most common in persons aged 45 to 59 years, followed closely by those aged 18 to 29 years.

As counselors, when working with individuals living with eating disorders, we need to consider other mental health issues our clients may be experiencing. The 2001-2003 NCS-R indicated that other common mental health concerns included anxiety disorders, mood disorders, impulse control disorders, and substance use disorders.

While the average onset for the most common eating disorders is in adulthood, the prevalence of eating disorders in adolescents. The 2001–2003 National Comorbidity Survey Adolescent Supplement (NCS-A) showed that eating disorders were most common in individuals aged 17–18 years, followed by 15–16 year olds and 13–14 year olds. according to. As in the adult population, eating disorders are more common in female adolescents than in males.

Avoidant/restrictive eating disorder (ARFID) is an eating disorder in which individuals restrict what they eat but are not concerned about their body shape, size, or weight. ARFID can occur in adults and children. Children living with ARFID may be picky eaters, which can affect their health.

How does group therapy help people with eating disorders?

There are a variety of benefits that can be derived from group therapy in eating disorder treatment programs. Group therapy sessions can be a healthy environment to provide psychoeducation on a variety of topics related to healthy recovery.

Group therapy allows our clients to connect with others who can relate to their problems and experiences. People living with an eating disorder can lead a life of isolation, withdrawing from friends and family. Connecting with others can be a validating experience that supports recovery. Additionally, it provides a safe environment for our clients to practice social skills they may feel uncomfortable with.

Group therapy provides our clients with a safe and supportive environment where they can come and talk about their struggles and triumphs. They will also have the opportunity to offer support, compassion and encouragement to others, which can be a rewarding experience in itself.

Counselors who facilitate eating disorder group therapy activities can tailor group activities to address common concerns faced by group members. Group therapy eating disorder activities can encourage group discussion and participation among group members.

List of group therapy activities for clients with eating disorders

There will be marked differences in the ideal group therapy activities for your group based on the characteristics of the group members. For example, if you have a group of teenagers living with an eating disorder, your group activities will look different and cover different topics than group activities for adults. Below is a short list of group therapy activities for eating disorders:

  1. Provide the group with the materials needed to write a letter about an eating disorder. Ask them to name it and write it as if it were an alien. Tell them that they will share these letters with the group, that they will be supported and that they will make their own choices about what to do with the letter. Group members can keep the letter, tear it up, shred it, or burn it. This exercise should focus on allowing them to express their ideas openly.
  2. Conduct a group session that provides information about the different forms of eating disorders and their prevalence. This would also be an appropriate time to talk about individuals who have turned to other disordered eating behaviors while struggling.
  3. Ask group members to write down their main triggers for eating disorders. This can include external factors such as places or certain people, or internal factors such as boredom and emotional distress. Address each trigger independently and spend time talking about ways to respond and manage identified triggers in a healthy manner.
  4. Take the time to consider different forms of meditation. Allow group time to practice different forms of meditation to familiarize group members with different types of meditation. This may include guided imagery and muscle relaxation. Encourage group members to use one or more of these before the next group session. Follow up in the next session to explore any experiences outside of the group.
  5. Take time to explore the role of healthy support in group members’ recovery. Discuss the characteristics associated with healthy supporters and non-supporters.
  6. Provide psychoeducation about other mental health issues that may occur when a person is struggling with an eating disorder. This can include anxiety disorders, mood disorders, impulse control disorders, and substance use disorders.
  7. Spend a group talking about mindfulness, specifically the 7 principles associated with it. Take the time to explore which of these members are difficult for them and which may come easier to them.
  8. Have a group talk about using grounding exercises as a healthy coping skill. Talk about how using our 5 senses can help bring us back to the present and break out of thought patterns we’re stuck in. Ask the group to identify situations where they feel grounding exercises might be useful and encourage them to use them before. next session. Allow time to follow up at your next session.
  9. Focus on helping group members understand how our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are interconnected. Take the time to explore what thoughts are causing difficult emotions and unhealthy behaviors for group members. Spend time exploring how group members can work to become more aware of their thoughts and what they can do to catch and manage them when they happen.
  10. Hold a group talking about cognitive distortions. Normalize the existence of cognitive distortions because it is something we all experience. Take time to consider how group members can effectively assess the reality of these ideas and challenge them. Thinking challenges can be an effective way to respond to cognitive distortions.
  11. Take the time to consider mindfulness exercises that can be done anywhere, anytime. The convenience of these exercises supports their use as effective coping skills. This can include body scans, mindful visualization, mindful listening, mindful breathing, and exploring your 5 senses.
  12. Provide the group with the materials they need to draw their safe place. Try to keep the directions vague so that group members can think about what their safe place really is. It can be a fictional place, a familiar place, a place they have never been, or even being with a safe person. Review designated safe places and talk about how these places can be incorporated into meditation.
  13. Take time to talk about what group members think self-care is. If necessary, educate and talk about the role of regular self-care in our mental health. Provide the group with a worksheet that lists different forms of self-care and ask the group to identify 2-3 new practices they can try. Emphasize that you don’t have to spend money or do anything extravagant to take care of yourself.
  14. Provide the group with the materials needed to create an eating disorder timeline. Ask them to include life events that they feel are relevant. Review the timelines of group members and connect any themes or common experiences that appear. Towards the end, ask the group to share what they want and hope for moving forward.
  15. Take time to brief the group on the stages of change and what each stage might look like. Ask the group to talk about where they feel and what this means for their recovery.

Final Thoughts on Eating Disorder Group Therapy Activities for Your Clients

Group therapy activities for eating disorders can be useful tools in outpatient and inpatient treatment programs. Group therapy is more cost-effective than individual therapy, so for many, group sessions may be the only way they are exposed to mental health treatment at the time. With this in mind, it’s important to focus on the exercises used to ensure your group session is on target.

If you prefer to have formal resources to guide your group therapy activities for eating disorders, resources like ours Eating disorder worksheets, can provide you with individual worksheets or packets that can guide your group sessions. The advantage of using handouts is that it gives your client something to take home with them that can be reviewed as needed.

TherapyByPro is a program online mental health directory connecting mental health professionals with clients in need. If you are a mental health professional, you can Join our community and add your experience listing here. We have templates for assessments, practice forms, and worksheets that mental health professionals can use to facilitate their practice. Look at all of us mental health forms, worksheet and assessments here.


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