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I attended one of the meetings of a local Overeaters Anonymous group. I wanted to make sure that my presence will not disrupt the process, so I went as a person seeking help. I did not invent an identity to become a member of the group as I had some issues with food in the past, so the meeting had manifold outcomes for me. I shared my concerns associated with food and the role it can play in my life. I also managed to observe the peculiarities of managing and being a part of a supportive meeting group. In this paper, I will focus on group dynamics, tools, and approaches used, strengths, flaws, and possible ways to improve the meeting format.
Meeting Description and Analysis
This self-help/supportive group follows the 12-step model that implies the focus on emotional and spiritual aspects. Schwartz, Nickow, Arseneau, and Gisslow (2015) claim that this approach has proved to be effective for treating various types of addictions and conditions, including eating disorders. Schwartz et al. (2015) note that group meetings can be specifically effective when combined with an intervention held by a professional.
It is also stressed that the focus on spirituality is an important element that makes meetings effective (Schwartz et al., 2015). However, I noticed that many participants were not comfortable with the religious aspect of the meeting. Only a few joined the leader pronouncing the words of the prayer. As far as the format of the self-help/supportive group is concerned, it was effective as people needed support rather than certain information and guidelines. It is noteworthy that the participants did not mention whether they had any intervention or received professional aid.
The group dynamics can be described with the help of Tuckman’s classic model. According to this approach, groups’ development can be divided into four major stages including forming, storming, norming, and performing (Furman, Bender, & Rowan, 2014). Only two new members of the group (including me) were present, and the rest of the speakers attended similar meetings for a while.
Hence, it is possible to assume that the group is in the stage of norming as individuals are aware of the rules and norms and ready to follow them. The atmosphere was friendly and supportive as the group members interacted with each other rather than simply shared their stories responding to the leader’s prompts. The group was diverse in terms of age, gender, ethnicity, and weight. Several people with normal body weight (in my opinion) were also present. It turned out that one of them was a person who succeeded and wanted to retain the achieved results. Another individual was afraid of gaining weight as she started eating more recently.
At the beginning of the meeting, the leader spoke about the existing rules and the purpose of the meetings, as well as the topic of this particular one. The group members were to discuss the role the media could and had to play in their lives. The central theme was the inflicted standards and the need to comply with them. Each person shared their views on the matter during a short introduction.
The individuals started their stories by calling themselves “a compulsive eater” or “overeater.” Everyone was open and willing to share their stories and ideas on the topic. The second part of the meeting was devoted to achievements and areas to focus on. One of the strengths of the meeting was group members’ involvement in the process. People were supportive and eager to interact, which indicates that the participants trust each other and the rapport is established.
One of the weaknesses was the fact that the leader was not very active during the meeting, which made it seem somewhat disorganized. It seemed that the leader had helped the group to develop rapport, and withdrew herself from further involvement. The leader’s role was confined to starting the meeting and concluding it with a few instances of framing the discussion. She focused on newcomers trying to make us feel comfortable and active.
However, even the groups where participants trust each other, it is important to maintain a specific pace and provide guidance. The leader can and should employ numerous tools that can be prompted for the participants. For example, the leader should utilize such instruments as reflection, clarification, supporting, and setting the tone (Jacobs, Schimmel, Masson, & Harvill, 2015). One of the outcomes of this approach to group leadership was a repetitive message articulated by almost all of the participants. The blame was often put on food and the media, and the leader did not even try to react and prevent people from making these claims.
First, the leader should make sure that she sets the right tone and encourages the participants to be critical. Blaming others is a dangerous path that can make people less capable of shaping their behaviors. The chosen topic was ideal for the discussion of the degree to which every person is responsible for their behavior and life. Nevertheless, I felt that many participants implicitly placed a considerable amount of responsibility on the media and food. Jacobs et al. (2015) note that setting the right tone is essential as it helps the members of the group remain focused on the most effective strategies.
Clarification is another instrument to be used during such meetings. The meeting under analysis was characterized by the abundance of missed opportunities as the leader failed to introduce prompts that could guide the discussion. Some remarks were rather ambiguous, which could lead many members to false conclusions. The leader should clarify all points that can potentially result in negative consequences (Jacobs et al., 2015). Clarification is also associated with the provision of prompts for the participants especially those who are reluctant to take an active part in the discussion. For instance, a person can feel eager to respond to some of the leader’s remarks (prompts) as it may be the most important or meaningful aspect for him or her.
It is also possible to improve the meeting by using a different leadership style. Jacobs et al. (2015) note that leader- and group-directed are two common types of leadership styles employed to manage group meetings. The meeting under analysis can be characterized by the use of the group-directed model. This approach is related to the focus on group members’ needs, desires, and peculiarities.
The leader seemed to choose the extreme version of this approach as she was hardly involved in the discussion. Jacobs et al. (2015) emphasize that support group meetings can benefit from leader-directed leadership as people are often unaware of what can work for them and what is needed. Therefore, such freedom and orientation on clients can be ineffective or even harmful.
These recommendations are linked to the diversity issues that can take place in the group under consideration. As mentioned above, the people in the group are different in terms of their age, gender, ethnicity, and other aspects. I felt that although people were supportive and eager to express themselves, they had different views on many areas, which could lead to conflicts or misunderstanding if meetings are not properly managed. For instance, one of the members of the group tried to address the belief that the media are completely responsible for setting standards and making people miserable.
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However, this voice was hushed while the leader seemed to pay no attention to this incident. In the future, such occasions can result in some participants’ resistance and an unfavorable atmosphere during meetings. Therefore, the leader should be more active and pay closer attention to the diversity of the group.
In conclusion, I would like to note that the attendance of the meeting helped me gain insights into the way groups can be managed. I could observe a supportive group’s dynamics and strategies that worked or were ineffective. It is clear that the leader of the group has to play an active role in the discussion facilitating it with the help of such instruments as reflection, questioning, tone-setting, clarification, and supporting. It is also critical to ensure that the participants’ peculiarities will be considered as groups are often diverse in terms of many aspects. At the same time, the leader should consider using the leader-directed leadership style that can help in managing the discussion and making the meeting helpful for clients.
Furman, R., Bender, K., & Rowan, D. (2014). An experiential approach to group work (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Jacobs, E. E., Schimmel, C. J., Masson, R. L. L., & Harvill, R. L. (2015). Group counseling: Strategies and skills (8th ed.). Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.
Schwartz, D. C., Nickow, M. S., Arseneau, R., & Gisslow, M. T. (2015). A substance called food: Long-term psychodynamic group treatment for compulsive overeating. International Journal of Group Psychotherapy, 65(3), 386-409. Web.