We live in a digital age where we can interact with anyone across the globe at the ease of our fingertips and a good Internet connection. In the past, a busy work schedule, a long commute or the lack of transportation could have been the barrier standing between an individual participating in an eating disorder support group. However, technology is now allowing therapy to transcend distance. Additionally, many individuals who experience an exceptional amount of social anxiety may want to begin with an online or conference call support group because it gives them an extra buffer between actual interpersonal contact. Although in-person support groups are ideal because they provide direct personal contact, online support groups are becoming increasingly popular and have proven to be effective.

The purpose of online support groups and all support groups, in general, is to form a safe community and build trust to support each other through their journey. These support systems may consist of sharing relevant information about eating disorders, relating personal experiences, listening to and receiving others experiences, delivering empathetic understanding and forming social networks. An eating disorder support group may also exist for advocacy or to inform the public of relevant information concerning eating disorders. No matter the means of communication whether it is in person or via telecommunication, eating disorder support groups can be a helpful resource to any individual who is seeking or trying to maintain their recovery.

How effective are online eating disorder support groups?

Research has shown that online support groups can be equally effective as in-person support groups but may require more time since the pace of recovery is usually slower in online support groups. Many therapists believe that combining an Internet support group with psychotherapy training may be a more effective option for treatment, rather than opting for an online-based support group alone. Through online eating disorder support groups, individuals struggling with an eating disorder can process their feelings without fear of judgment. This fear often keeps people from seeking support, which is one of the many benefits of the anonymity of online groups and resources. These forums are typically monitored by an eating disorder professional or volunteer with experience in the field to ensure that topics stay on track and that no triggering language is used. From online conference calls using interfaces such as Skype or WhatsApp to online chat discussion forums; online eating support groups usually are a mix of discussion boards and phone meetings. Online forums or discussion boards should be supplemented with group calls to be effective. As long as members of the support group are thoughtful about group confidentiality and do not talk about other individual’s issues outside of the group, they can be just a phone call away in a crisis.

Online eating disorder support groups for loved ones

Family members and loved ones can also participate in online eating disorder support groups as often, family members need a space to work out their feelings that resulted from witnessing a loved one with an eating disorder. Families can feel isolated, judged, and misunderstood. A support group may provide a space for family members to connect with other family members, helping them identify, feel more normal, and develop relationships that they can rely on outside of the group. Having the ability to connect with others via an online platform from the comfort of one’s home or office can allow a parent, sibling, child or spouse to be more supportive around their loved one who is in eating disorder recovery.

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