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Support Groups 101

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Support Groups are groups of people with the same health condition (and caregivers) who come together for support, comfort and to learn practical information from people with similar experiences. Members help each other. Support groups are led by trained mental health professionals (a social worker, psychotherapist or psychiatrist).

Support groups have a lot of benefits even if you have support from family and friends. There is a unique strength in group membership. Some research shows that joining a support group not only improves quality of life it also enhances survival. Support groups are also a good source of practical information about living with your health condition.

Experience indicates that support groups are as useful to men as women.

Support groups meet in person, on the telephone or on the internet. Even if you live in a rural area, you can attend a support group. Experience and at least one study indicate that online support groups work as well as in person support groups.

There are all kinds of support groups so the odds are there is at least one in which you will feel comfortable.

The identity of the people who attend a support group and what happens there is kept confidential.

Whether or not to attend a support group is a personal decision, not a question of right or wrong. It is perfectly reasonable to choose not to attend a suport group if for any reason you do not feel comfortable.

If you are considering joining a support group, we suggest that you initially attend any support group for a few sessions as a "visitor."  

  • It will give you a chance to see if you are comfortable in a group setting.
  • Since all support groups are not created equal, you may find that you have to try more than one to find a group that is right for you. It's worth the effort. The benefits can be that great.
  • Consider whether the group seems to be actively working toward wellness or whether it is just conducting a "pity party". 

If you start going to a group and it ends up making you feel worse, it's okay to look for another group.

If no support group works for you, consider starting one of your own. Such groups are known as "Self help" groups. Alternatively, consider at least finding a buddy - someone else in your situation with whom you can communicate openly. To learn about buddies, and how to find one, click here.

Another option to consider is one-on-one contact with another person in your same situation. Such a person is referred to in the medical community as a "buddy.". To learn more, including how to find such a person, click here.

For additional information, see:

NOTE:  There are informal chat groups on the internet in which you can seek support at any time of the day or night. While these online groups can provide valuable emotional support, they may not always offer correct medical or other information. Be careful about any information you get from the Internet. Of course, check with your doctor before making any changes that are based on what you read or hear.

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