Women Battling Diabetes, One Group at a Time

Inspired by the article “Inside the PAR group: The group dynamics of women learning to live with diabetes”, Fatemeh Adii, Isabel Higgins, and Tina Koch, Action Research 10(4) 373–386

I work for a wellness company that is contracted by a grocery store chain to help employees improve their everyday lifestyles through nutrition and exercise. Along with a team of health coaches and exercise physiologists, I help employees manage their journey while they battle diabetes, hypertension and other chronic diseases. Adii, Higgins and Koch’s article resonated with me because it offered a way to intervene with women diagnosed with type II diabetes—a special demographic that we also work with—that my colleagues and I had not thought of doing before.

The AR included the formation of groups that helped the women discuss self-management of their chronic illnesses. The researchers had a democratic approach to this action experiment in that they allowed for the women they were researching to dictate the group discussions and the agenda, even as they provided some level of structure. This allowed for the research to flow in a very different direction, surface conversations that would not have occurred otherwise, and also yielded impressive results. For example, the researchers “noticed that Rose [participant], who did not talk much during the first sessions, appeared to grow in confidence as she talked and interacted with the other women more readily and easily over time. Rose shared her pride in losing weight through monitoring her food intake”. The groups allowed for women to freely talk and share their personal stories at their own pace, which not only generated research but was more beneficial for the group structure.

The article was particularly relevant to my job field, where we tend to work with the patient individually and assume that the best way to change their lifestyle is by informing them directly—i.e. we assume that increased individual knowledge and awareness leads to action. What this research showed, however, is that these women became really comfortable being around each other and felt at ease when they discovered that they were not alone in battling this chronic illness. They ended up helping each other address their weaknesses when it came to managing their health and learning more about how to actually take care of themselves.

Insights from the article led me to engage in discussions with my colleagues on different ways to do health interventions with our clients which take into account group dynamics. One insight that we hope might generate better results is putting together small groups of 5-8 women/men (women and men separately) that meet once a week with me and our health coach and nutritionist. Our goal is to not only educate and give these patients knowledge but to create a space in which they are comfortable sharing their stories and their struggles and learn from not us but the other women around them. For health care professionals, this provides an alternative approach to how health interventions are approached and conducted.

Jasmine is a biracial twenty-four year old PhD student. She is a certified exercise physiologist and has a passion for helping people change their lives and improve their health.