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The Significance of the Therapeutic Support Group for Eating Disorders

Thursday, March 23, 2017: 8:30 AM-9:45 AM
Del Mar I (Green Valley Ranch)

Background: Support groups are effective adjuncts to the treatment of eating disorders. Benefits include decreased isolation, expression of feelings, improved coping skills, increased investment in treatment and enhanced self-esteem. Development of and kinds of support groups, maintaining successful support groups, and support group as a therapeutic community will also be addressed.

Objectives: 1. the significant benefits of support groups to those recovering from eating disorders, and those who care about and the difference between a support group and group therapy and how to maintain those boundaries 2. what “group rules” are necessary to avoid triggering patients and problems that may be encountered during a group session 3. the group dynamics and how these factors influence group members including how the group can impact someone who is not even in the room

What is a support group?

Support groups in popular media

Finding Nemo


Why are there so few support groups?

Benefits of joining a support group

Decreased sense of isolation

Freedom to express negative feelings/emotional support

Learning to develop effective coping skills

Enhanced self-esteem

Understanding and empathy

Insights regarding maladaptive behavior

Becoming involved in and greater investment in continuing therapy

Types of support groups

Gender restricted

Age restricted—implications of child/adolescent groups

Diagnosis restricted

Family and Friends with and without person struggling

Dual diagnosis

Face to face vs online support groups--Benefits and problems

The support group becomes part of the therapeutic team

Differences between support group and group therapy

How the individual who is not in the support group and not even in therapy can be

impacted by the support group

Demonstration of emerging recovery from therapy in the support group

Concerns demonstrated in support group taken to the therapeutic team

Other impact of the support group on therapy process

Support group guidelines


Peer led

Professional led

Number of leaders


Time and place

Group Rules

Why are they necessary?

How many

What kind

Open vs closed


Cell phones

Meeting opening and closing rituals

Group process




Professionally directed



Developing a support group

Who should attend?

Prescreening, if so what kind?

Requirements to be in therapy if attend support group


How to get members

Group dynamics

Strategies for promoting helpful group dynamics

Communication and interaction patterns

Group cohesion

Group norms, roles, status, culture

Nonverbal behavior



Leader(s) role in and out of the meeting

Support group as a therapeutic community


Realization that recovery is possible through recovery role models

Equality of all members

Equal expectations of all members

Feeling of interpersonal support and investment in other group members

Dealing with problems

When member

is often late to meetings

talks too much, monopolizing

rejects every suggestion; yes...but

has problems that are more then the group can handle

interrupts others or brings up inappropriate or irrelevant subjects

problem does not match what group is meant to address

leaves early

is suicidal

It is very surprising that support groups are not a regular part of the therapeutic team. Their impact can be felt in all aspects of the therapeutic process and are a significant adjunct in the treatment of eating disorders. In fact the support group may be the first introduction the patient has to treatment and the backdoor that parents and friends have to introduce the idea of treatment to their loved one. It is amazing how many times patients not in the same state as the parents attending a support group have ended up in treatment as a direct result of the support group. These groups allow members to provide support to one another gaining understanding and empathy as well as support and gentle pushing which allows members to experience themselves through the eyes of others. Goals include increased self awareness, increased social comfort, exploration of new behaviors, emotional support, skill development and practice in interaction and communication with others. A “Family and Friends” support group allows loved ones to get the support they need as they go through the recovery process of their loved one which can be devastating for the care givers. This presentation will address why a support group is a necessary part of the therapeutic process, differences between a support group and a therapy group, how a support group is a therapeutic community, setting up a support group and determining who should attend, developing guidelines/rules, understanding group dynamics associated with the support group, utilizing support groups to get an individual into treatment and dealing with problems which may occur. Examples of problems and how to deal with them will be addressed.
Primary Presenter:
Joann V. Hendelman, PhD, MA, BSN, RN, FAED, CEDS, CEDRN

Dr. Joann Hendelman is a Clinical Psychologist (and registered nurse), Clinical Director of The Alliance for Eating Disorders Awareness and in private practice in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. She formerly served as Chief, Department of Psychology for St. Mary's and Good Samaritan Medical Centers and was formerly the Clinical Director of the St. Francis Medical Center Eating Disorders Program, Peoria, Illinois. Dr. Hendelman is a Fellow of the Academy of Eating Disorders, a Certified Eating Disorders Specialist, Certified Eating Disorders Registered Nurse and iaedp Approved Supervisor. Dr. Hendelman has worked with eating disorders since 1973.

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