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Cooking Therapy Groups - a New Approach to Group Intervention

Cooking therapy is an innovative intervention method first developed in 2004 and already successfully used with various kinds of target population. The method was developed by social worker and a chef Ayelet Barak.

The theoretical backbone of Cooking Therapy is Object Relations perspective, which addresses nourishing and the important role it plays in personality development in children and adults. Cooking group therapy relies on the premises and therapeutic techniques developed in the fields of art therapy and group intervention. This novel approach has already been evaluated and proven effective for two populations, children diagnosed with PDD and psychiatric co-morbidity and cancer patients.

Cooking therapy seems to be specifically effective for children with PDD because it bridges the children's inner world and the outside world of reality and the therapist. This bridge is fortified through the unique characteristics of this therapeutic approach which combines the concrete and symbolic, exposing children to different kinds of communication (verbal and non-verbal) and allowing them to process different kinds of transference. Specifically, children practice the establishment of primary relations through elements of play and creativity, sensorial stimulation and group dynamic. One of the key presuppositions of Cooking Therapy is that the handling and preparation of food is a basic and primal act with which even the most challenged children can successfully engage. The product of cooking is immediate, the satisfaction is immediate, and the children can thus maintain a high level of enthusiasm and motivation.

The cooking therapy model created for cancer patients aims to improve quality of life of patients for whom both disease and treatment make issues of food, cooking and nutrition into complex and fraught. While conventional recovery programs separate nutritional consultancy and emotional support, this new treatment method addresses the nutritional and mental dimensions of nourishment together, transforming it into an effective therapeutic change mechanism.

Several elements of cooking can serve as a strong therapeutic tool in this case. Firstly, Cooking Therapy regards food preparation as an experience closely connected with the human libido and primal survival instincts. As cancer challenges our libido, creative cooking has been proven to be an effective way for rekindling patients’ desire, and arousing their sensuality and even lust, enhancing their will for recovery. Moreover, cooking is an act of playfulness and creation. It cultivates the ability to view harsh situations in a more flexible manner, and generating new ways of handling difficult conditions. We therefore believe that developing creative “cooking skills" in cancer patients opens for them new ways of approaching their everyday struggles and finding new ways to cope with them. The group usually cooks courses that are based on the “ten healthy foods”. Health food, usually perceived as bland and expensive, and as something which requires considerable efforts, is integrated into the patients' daily cooking, thereby becoming more accessible and pleasant. Of equal importance is the fact that each course is designed to stimulate a group discussion about one of the emotional struggles of cancer patients. To use the example of one meal cooked by the group, the preparation of starters of transparent rice sheets stuffed with vegetables opened up a discussion about exposure and vulnerability in the contexts of the group, the hospital, the workplace, and the family. A course of “dim-sum”, the Chinese word for "heart wishes", helped participants focus and articulate their secret goals and investigate ways of attaining them. The cooking of a main course based on roots – sweet potato, carrots, and onions – stimulated a discussion of the energies we draw from our own roots and support cycles, such as family members, friends, and past experience.

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