Support groups are gatherings of people with a similar affliction, condition or impairment who meet regularly to share their experiences and gain strength and advice from each other. In one sense, a support group is like an informal group therapy session, in which a member of the group (and not some outside doctor) may lead the session. Keep in mind, however, that some support groups have no set leader.
In most cases, attending support groups is free, and many attendees benefit immensely from participating in them.
Types of Support Groups
Millions of support groups treating various conditions are currently spread throughout the United States and the world. Some of the many different types of support groups include those focused on helping people deal with:
- Traumatic brain injury
- Addiction and substance abuseA
- All types of cancers
- Anger management
- Bipolar disorder
- Depression and anxiety disorders
- Eating disorders, including anoxia, bulimia and overeating
- Homosexual and transgender issues
- Obsessive compulsive behaviors
- Phobias, including acrophobia and claustrophobia
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
In addition to their central theme, different types of support groups will also vary in size and affiliation. For example, while some support groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, are well established on the national level, others may simply involve the members of your community without any larger affiliation.
During a Meeting
Most support groups meet at a regular time and location one or two times each week or month. Similarly, meetings usually follow a regular “schedule” or “agenda.” Depending on the type of support group you are attending, the meeting may include:
- A group “prayer,” mantra or chant (that members memorize and say together at the beginning and/or end of the meeting)
- An exchange of stories from individual members (During this, one member will usually stand or step to the front of the group to share his experience or advice while the rest of the group listens.)
- Lectures from local doctors, lawyers or other professionals who can provide relevant and helpful insight to group members
- Readings from the Bible, motivational literature or other helpful materials
- Silent meditation, which may (or may not) be guided by another member
In most cases, anyone can attend a support group meeting, without prior appointment, application or fee. Similarly, regular attendance isn’t mandatory, and, in most cases, names and discussions aren’t recorded. Creating an anonymous environment promotes honesty, which is essential to the treatment, acceptance and growth that occur during support group meetings.
How to Find a Local Support Group
With a little research, you’ll be surprised at how many support groups you can find within your community. Some of the best ways to find support group meetings suited to you include:
- At churches and local religious organizations
- At hospitals, fitness centers or local rehabilitation centers
- From your doctor or therapist
- From your co-workers, friends and family members
- In local newspapers’ classified section
- Online at Craigslist or other Web sites listing local classified ads
Once you find a few local support groups, attend each to see in which you are most comfortable. Being comfortable in your support group is key to being honest, confronting your impairment or condition and learning how to live with it and look toward the future.