What Is A Support Group?
A support group is an opportunity for individuals to share feelings and experiences related to a particular issue. The topic is often a medical or mental health diagnosis or problem. Sometimes, the purpose of the meeting is to provide mutual support before or after surgery or help clients deal with the stress of caring for a loved one with a chronic illness, such as cancer. In support groups, people who have experienced similar issues provide comfort, encouragement, and hope to those in the process of coping with their challenges.
Support groups are important in the recovery process but are not meant to provide treatment. Instead, clients are expected to participate in the group by sharing their stories, celebrating each other’s successes, and sharing coping strategies that would be helpful in both their journey and that of others.
Structure of Support Groups
There is no single support group. They may be informal, with participants talking openly among themselves as they share their experiences. Others are planned out more carefully, with facilitators and meeting times set ahead of time. Still, others are not supported, so support is only given after an organizer has heard about a person’s situation and can ensure safety and confidentiality.
Support group members usually choose their topics for discussion. Group leaders allow people to share in whatever way seems comfortable, whether it’s a personal story related to the diagnosis or problem, a question about it, or just general thoughts about the topic. The general rule for every support group is that everyone who attends has some connection to the topic being discussed.
Medical facilities, mental health organizations, social service agencies, hospitals, and clinics may offer support groups. They may also be sponsored by government institutions, organizations, or businesses. They may be free or have a nominal fee to cover the cost of space, facilities, and materials. Some support groups have no leader, while others have a moderator who facilitates discussion and keeps the group on track.
Types Of Support Groups
12-Step Support Groups
12-Step support groups are the most well-known support group in use today. A 12-Step Program is a program for individuals addicted to alcohol and drugs or other compulsive behaviors. Alcoholics Anonymous first established it, but since then, it has been adopted by many other organizations to address various issues and needs. The 12-step program requires participants to admit that they have lost control over their addiction. They understand they must change and commit themselves to eventually achieving that change.
Many people who attend support groups are not addicted to alcohol and drugs, but they may still suffer from other mental health issues or medical conditions. They may be homeless, disabled, ill, or aging and feel threatened by the prospect of losing their home or ability to care for themselves. Many demand change that does not allow for much true self-growth. 12-step support groups offer a place for such people to confront their feelings about the same challenges that threaten their survival while also supporting them in changing themselves.
Mutual Support Groups
Mutual support groups are set up to assist clients through times of stress. Members usually share similar concerns or problems and offer each other support and information to help them cope with these difficulties. Many of these groups are based on religion, culture, or ethnicity, but they do not always have an affiliation.
These groups are peer-led groups. Facilitators receive training, but they don’t give advice or act as professionals. They are generally long-term and meet regularly over some time, usually in the same place. They often have a specific structure, but each meeting is open-ended. People can bring up topics that they feel affected by for the day if it applies to the group’s purpose.
Therapy Support Groups
Therapy support groups are structured around the therapeutic process. The group aims to create a safe place for clients to talk about their feelings and experiences, expecting that these will lead to a healthier life.
A professional therapist brings several people together who live with similar conditions and provides treatment to them as a group. The therapist decides on the format of the topics to be discussed and answers any questions about the process. The support group is usually a supplement to other forms of therapy, but it is used as the primary form of treatment in some cases.
Online Support Groups
Online support groups are an easy way to get help. There is no need to attend or participate in a face-to-face meeting. Instead, individuals can connect with other people online and talk to them directly. Online groups do not require a fee for services and cannot recommend a therapist either.
Although online groups seem like an easy option, there are some risks associated with them, including:
• Anonymity may lead to inappropriate or disrespectful comments or behaviors.
• Sharing potentially sensitive information without the guarantee of confidentiality.
• High cost of connecting with or maintaining online sessions.
• Lack of accountability through providers, staff, and moderators.
• Communication by written text might lead to misinterpretation.
What to Expect From Support Groups
There are many different support groups, so every group functions a little differently. Therefore, it is not easy to tell if a particular group will be a good fit for you. But there are some things to look for when evaluating your choices:
1. The Support Group Has Clear Rules About Who Can Attend
Most support groups have some criteria for who is allowed to attend. It can include the need for a certain medical diagnosis, or it may be based on the type or severity of your mental health problem. Others are less restrictive and welcome a wider range of attendees. Try to observe how different groups run their meetings and note how inclusive they are when choosing where to join.
2. The Group Has an Open Mind About the Presenting Problems
Every group has specific boundaries that determine how serious the presenting of issues must be for someone to participate in the group. Some groups welcome people with general stress but are not a good fit for more severe issues. Some groups welcome people with severe issues but not those suffering from substance abuse or recovery. And some groups welcome members with any issue.
3. The Group Has Clear Goals and Objectives
Support group leaders should be able to tell you what the group hopes to accomplish and how it plans to do so. It isn’t likely to be a good fit if a leader can’t articulate how the group will benefit its members.
4. The Group Has Some Structure
All support groups have a meeting structure. For instance, some groups may meet each week while others may meet once a month. Some offer additional services such as phone calls, psychotherapy, or medication assistance.
Most support group leaders will be able to steer you toward the type of structure that meets your needs best and will explain their reasons for offering different models. Try to identify which kind of meeting works better for you and then choose the one that feels most comfortable to you.
Common Myths and Misconceptions About Support Groups
Many people who don’t know much about support groups assume that a support group is just a bunch of people sitting around depressed or angry because they are sick. But the truth is that support groups are not just places where individuals yell at one another. They can be very helpful and supportive and can help your healing process by providing you with the social support you need to get through difficult periods in your life.
The most common myths and misperceptions about support groups are:
• Support groups don’t have any answers.
• You are required to share your story.
• There aren’t many support groups in neighborhoods.
• Other participants may attack or criticize your story.
How to Join a Support Group
If you are looking to find the best support group, the information you might need should be available from the following:
• Your doctor or mental health professional.
• The clinic or hospital where you were diagnosed.
• Organizations that advocate for certain medical conditions.
• Websites for particular illnesses and conditions.
What Are the Benefits of Support Groups?
Support groups consist of people who have experienced the same circumstances or at least a similar one. They have a foundation in having been through the same things and can offer advice, comfort, friendship, and hope for the future.
Support groups can have many benefits for both individuals and society. Some of these benefits include:
1. Provides individuals with the chance to speak openly and honestly with others who understand their feelings.
2. Give individuals a safe place to express their emotions, which can be a positive contributor to the healing process.
3. Provide the opportunity for those facing health issues, illness, and loss to connect with others in a supportive environment.
4. Providing opportunities for mutual support, education, and self-discovery.
5. Increasing awareness of the issue in the general public.
6. Stimulating action to remove social injustices that contribute to the problem.
7. Assist in promoting better treatment and services for those with the problem.
8. Increasing management and coping ability of those with the problem through support and education.
Disadvantages of Support Groups
Like everything else, support groups also have their own set of drawbacks. Some of them are:
1. Group members may become so involved that their commitment and responsibilities to the group cause them to lose sight of the primary goals when they first joined.
2. Individuals may experience feelings of increased isolation or helplessness because there is no instant cure for their problem.
3. Support groups can reinforce negative attitudes by focusing on the problems rather than solutions.
4. The solution for one person’s issues may not work for everyone.
5. Some people may use the group as an excuse to keep doing what is wrong.
6. Disruptive group members can make the group unproductive for everyone else.
7. Some groups may violate your privacy or violate your right to confidentiality by disclosing information about you without your permission.
8. Support groups may have poor leadership, which is not well-organized, lack of activities, and a mixed level of participants who may bring different issues that overshadow the group’s purpose.
9. Support groups do not help us solve our problems. They only help us deal with them better.
Finding the Right Group for You
Finding a support group is only the beginning of your recovery. Many factors can influence how well a person will do in a support group, such as age, life experience, and the environment, but here are a few questions you should have the answers to before deciding you have found the right support group:
• Do you have some background knowledge of your disorder?
• Is the meeting guided by a facilitator or moderator?
• Is the physical environment, including the size of the meeting room, comfortable for you?
• Are there charges to attend?
• Is the facilitator a professional?
• Is a mental health professional in the group?
• Does the meeting structure of the group suit your needs?
• Are there any rules of participation?
• What are the guidelines for confidentiality?
Getting the Most From a Support Group
It can be intimidating meeting new people. But joining a support group can make you feel less lonely and more connected to others who experience similar challenges. Connection should not be your only aim. It would be best if you purposed to get the most out of your support group experience.
Here is what you should take note of:
• Focus on attending often
• Have a positive attitude about your situation
• Be sensitive to others in the group
• Participate in sharing your experiences with others
• Evaluate if a group is a correct fit
Contact BlueCrest Recovery Center
All support groups are different and have some things in common. They all connect people who share a similar experience or may learn to help themselves by accepting and understanding others’ experiences. The emotional support that the group provides can be very helpful to people who experience emotional distress in their life. Support groups do the work, and they promote healing. They help us understand others and help us accept our situation more so we can deal with it better.
At Blue Crest Recovery Center in New Jersey, we understand mental and physical health disorders. We treat our clients with respect, compassion, and individuals rather than as a diagnosis. We have a unique treatment approach that combines evidence-based practice with 12-step principles. Call us today, and our skilled clinicians will help you answer any questions and find the right support group to help you overcome your emotional problems.