The power of moderated online communities in recovery
Guest post written by Gemma Vernon
To introduce myself my name is Gemma Vernon, I’m from London, England and I have lived experience of anorexia nervosa for 8 years. I’m now a peer mentor for The Recovery Collective, which I love. I recently passed my MSc in Psychology from the University of Greenwich with Merit and I now work full-time as a Mental Health Support Officer.
I’ve been in recovery from anorexia for over 5 years now. During my journey, I made the decision to change my career as I got better and my passion for psychology and helping others grew. I decided to embark on my MSc in Psychology in September 2021 and it was the best decision for both my career and my recovery. I found a new sense of purpose and this really helped me to reach the final stages of recovery.
When the time came to decide on a topic for my MSc dissertation I knew I wanted to write about anorexia recovery. Having experienced the benefits of community in recovery by being a member of The Recovery Collective and having taken part in Talia Cecchele’s 30-day food challenge in January 2021, I decided I wanted to focus my research on moderated online recovery communities and their effect on the experience of recovery.
I decided to conduct a mixed-methods study, meaning that I used both a questionnaire to measure quantitatively (in numbers) the difference between people who had and hadn’t been part of an online community and I conducted interviews on Zoom with practitioners who run online recovery communities to measure qualitatively (in words, so to speak) the perceived effect of online recovery communities and their experience running them.
I conducted a questionnaire online for people in recovery from anorexia including the Questionnaire about the process of recovery (QPR) which measures people’s feelings of recovery from mental illness.
Each participant answered whether they have participated in moderated online recovery communities in their recovery and then filled out the questionnaire. Higher scores on the questionnaire are indicative of recovery. A statistical test was used to compare the means of the two groups, people who have and haven’t been part of a moderated online recovery community.
It was found that people who had been part of a community scored higher on average on the QPR. This goes to show the power of online communities. More research will be needed to confirm this effect and to control for other variables such as the kind of treatment people are receiving however, this is a great start!
The other part of my research was interviews with professionals who run online recovery communities. It was found that most of the feedback from people who used the moderated online recovery communities has been positive. It was also found that people report that they help them to manage the symptoms of their eating disorder. The peer support element of the community was said to have helped people to make friends, feel less alone and decrease isolation, which was said to be beneficial for recovery.
Additionally, it was found that people self-reported recovery benefits from using the online recovery communities such as forming friendships, feeling less lonely, growing in confidence, experiencing joy, giving their recovery a ‘boost’, feeling ‘safe’ to talk about recovery, learning new information about recovery, experiencing acceptance and understanding, opportunities to strengthen recovery and more.
The majority of practitioners who took part in the research said that they believe online recovery communities can help people to recover. The one who said they weren’t sure said that they believed they could help to manage the symptoms. However, there was a suggestion that spending too long online in the communities might not be the most empowering thing for people and so limits were placed on the time one of the groups was running after the pandemic. This is an area that would be interesting to research in the future. Another interesting comment came from one of the practitioners who said that when they reduced the hours the community was running after the pandemic people felt they couldn’t cope as they had become reliant on the community. This shows the extent to which these communities can provide support for people in recovery - and the importance of the support one gets beyond such communities.
As I wrote earlier, I experienced for myself the power of community in recovery and how helpful it can be to have others to talk to about an experience which can often feel so isolating. The education, the feeling of not being alone and the safe space moderated by professionals massively helped me in my own recovery. Being a part of The Recovery Collective is wonderful, as it connects you to others with the same goal as you and often similar life experiences. I have met some amazing people through being a member and was lucky enough to meet some of them in person at the first-ever Recovery Collective retreat in June 2022.
It was at the retreat that Meg, the founder of RRC, officially asked me to be a mentor within the community. I had expressed an interest earlier in the year as it has always been a goal of mine to use my experience of recovery to help others, and I feel this role really allows me to do this.
I love running the peer support sessions along with my fellow mentor, Anna. I find these sessions so rewarding as I see people connect with one another and get that support and companionship which I feel is vital to recovery and is supported by my research. It’s amazing to see that play out in real life. It’s also lovely to see friendships form throughout all of the calls.
Another favourite of mine is the monthly cook-along with Talia Cecchele. I find these so fun and it is something I really appreciate as it’s something that would have caused me a lot of anxiety earlier in my recovery and now I just really enjoy it. There is no pressure to cook, members are welcome to watch too. Talia also includes time for a Q&A and this is a really great opportunity to get nutrition questions answered by a specialist eating disorder dietician.
We also have monthly a yoga session with Anne-Claire, a special guest workshop, group coaching, a family check-in call and twice monthly journaling and meditation in our private Facebook group.
As for me, I am going to be working to hopefully get my research published, as I believe it is an important area of research for the future of anorexia and other eating disorder treatment.
Feel free to get in touch if you’d like to know more about the research or more specifics about the methods!
I will also be continuing to work in mental health and continuing my role in RRC. My next step in my career is to apply for either a trainee psychological well-being practitioner role or an assistant psychologist role and continue my psychology journey.
If this blog post has opened your eyes to the power of community in recovery you might want to join me over at The Recovery Collective when we next open for membership on 19th January 2023.
You can find out more on the website: click here to get on the waitlist before the 19th or join us (the doors will close at the end of January and won't reopen until the end of May!)
If you decide to join, Anna and I will welcome you into the community with a welcome call to help you to settle in and feel comfortable. This way you already have at least one familiar face when you take part in your first call.
Gemma Vernon (she/her) is an MSc psychology graduate and Mental Health Support Officer. Now recovered from her own battle with anorexia, she is an eating disorder recovery mentor in the Recovery Collective. She enjoys looking after her two house bunnies Daisy and Elsa, going to the theatre, spending time with friends and travelling.