What is an interpersonal group and should my patient attend?

by Jill Lewis, MA, LCSW, CEDS

We are a part of groups everyday of our lives, our family group, friend group, work, school, etc. An interpersonal process group provides the unique opportunity for patients to access and understand their interpersonal dynamics, not just with a therapist, but with other members of the group and community. What happens in a group will inevitably reflect their lives outside. For example, quiet group members are likely quiet outside the group and the feedback they get in group about being quiet will be relevant to them outside of the group. In this extremely enriching environment, our complex dynamics get played out, providing opportunities to explore and understand why they are happening. Interpersonal process groups help patients confront and deal with uncomfortable feelings and engage in healthy conflict, which allow people to step out of their repeated patterns, challenge, share, and access painful and stuck parts of themselves.  For example when one member of a group has similar characteristic to a patients parent. The dynamic of working through this anger, pain, and love within the group, is unbelievably powerful. It becomes a safe environment to identify their hurt and confront it.  This is extremely valuable within the eating disorder community, and it is truly how patients receive the ultimate success with confronting the interpersonal dynamics, finding their voices, and being seen. Being a group member helps a patient learn that they are not alone with their struggles—both in terms of symptoms use and the relational issues that the symptoms are rooted in.  It also helps patients create allies and support within the group which in turn can strengthen the supports they have outside of group.   Groups also help patients manage difficult feelings as they arise and work through them actively with the help of a therapist and their peers. It makes sense that the group treatment model that works in residential, PHP, and IOP settings would also be a critical component of outpatient treatment. Many patients are apprehensive about the group process for fear or not understanding what it can offer or being too exposed. Help our patients understand the value of stepping outside of their comfort zones so they can get this enriching experience that they so deeply need and deserve.

Jill Lewis, MA, LCSW, CEDS provides individual, group, couples, and family therapy for people struggling with eating disorders. Jill has worked at the Renfrew Center and Balance Eating Disorder Treatment Center. She has psychodynamic training from The New York Psychoanalytic Society, as well as group training from Eastern Group Psychotherapy Society. She maintains a practice in New York City and Atlanta.