Finding a support group that fits

Marilyn Lane

December 15th, 2014

One of our most important social and emotional needs humans experience is the sense of belonging. We are not alone. There are other people out there who share this need to be a part of a family or group of people with whom we have commonalities. Being part of such a group can establish a bond of caring and support which is especially important when we are facing a challenging time in our lives. A support group can help you deal with challenges and lead you to become healthier, happier and with improved self-esteem. This week, I want to share a few tips on finding the right support group for YOU.

I will also be discussing the benefits of joining a support group, and how you can get the most value out of one.

Benefits of a support group

While there are a number of support group formats, you will always find people with similar challenges and concerns as yourself. Members of a support group can provide emotional comfort and moral support, while also sharing personal experiences and advice on how to cope with your specific situation. The benefits of belonging to a support group are endless, and can include:

  • Feeling less lonely, isolated or judged
  • Regaining self-confidence and your sense of empowerment
  • Gaining practical advice from those who have been in your situation
  • Contributing your advice and sense of caring for others

How to find the right support group

If you’re seeing a counselor or therapist, it might be a good idea to ask him or her for a recommendation on a support group that would fit your specific needs. Also, tap into the experiences of others in a similar situation as yourself—they may have good recommendations. You may also want to research available groups in your area that might be a good fit. For resources on finding a local support group, visit your local Mental Health America affiliate and the LiveYourLifeWell website.

The support group that you ultimately select will depend on a number of factors including what’s available in your community, what structure and format you prefer and where you feel most comfortable. Some people prefer a more structured, moderated group, while others are much more comfortable in an intimate, more private setting. It’s always beneficial to attend a few meetings to decide whether the group you’ve selected is the right fit for you. Remember other participants probably share your anxieties. Additionally, it’s essential to understand that the participants of these support groups may be at different points in their life, and may have a different point of view. After considering these factors, if the group does not make you feel comfortable, or you don’t think that it will be helpful, consider trying another one.

The most important question you need to ask yourself is: “Does this group truly meet MY needs?” If it doesn’t, don’t feel obligated to continue attending—switch to a different group or take some time away from it.

Get the most out of your support group

When you first join a support group, it’s completely normal to feel uncomfortable about sharing personal information about yourself in front of people you don’t’ know. At first, you might benefit from just listening and taking everything in. You might hear something similar to your situation or hear something that sparks an idea or suggestion for others in your group. Ultimately, contributing your own thoughts, feelings and opinions to the group’s discussion will ultimately help you get the most out of the support group.

If a support group environment isn’t right for you, consult your doctor about other alternatives that might be available. I’d love to learn about the great sources in your area. Please share your thoughts with me and other members below.

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