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If you're facing a major illness or stressful life change, you don't have to go it alone. A support group can help. Find out how to choose the right one.
Support groups bring together people who are going through or have gone through similar experiences. For example, this common ground might be cancer, chronic medical conditions, addiction, grief or caregiving.
A support group provides:
A health-related support group may fill a gap between medical treatment and the need for emotional support for many people. A person's relationship with a doctor or other medical personnel may not provide adequate emotional support. A person's family and friends may not understand the impact of a disease or treatment. A support group among people with shared experiences may function as a bridge between medical and emotional needs.
Formats of support groups vary, including face-to-face meetings, teleconferences, or online communities. A layperson who shares or has shared the group's shared experience often leads a support group. Still, a group also may be led by a professional facilitator, such as a nurse, social worker or psychologist.
Some support groups may offer educational opportunities, such as a guest doctor, psychologist, nurse, or social worker, to discuss a topic related to the group's needs.
Support groups are not the same as group therapy sessions. Group therapy is a specific type of mental health treatment that brings together several people with similar conditions under the guidance of a licensed mental healthcare provider.
The shared experience among members of a support group often means they have similar feelings, worries, everyday problems, treatment decisions or treatment side effects. Participating in a group provides you with an opportunity to be with people who are likely to have a common purpose and the potential to understand one another.
Benefits of participating in a support group may include:
Support groups may have drawbacks, and influential groups generally depend on the facilitator to help steer away from these problems. These problems may include:
Online support groups offer benefits and risks that are particular to that format. It's essential to consider these factors before joining an online group.
Benefits of online groups include:
Risks of online support groups include the following:
Information about support groups may be available from the following:
Support groups vary in how they are organized and led. Before joining a support group, ask the following questions:
Red flags that might indicate a problematic support group include:
When you join a new support group, you may be nervous about sharing personal issues with people you don't know. At first, you may benefit from simply listening. Over time, however, contributing your ideas and experiences may help you get more out of a support group.
Try a support group for a few weeks. If it doesn't feel like a good fit for you, consider a different support group or a different support group format.
Remember that a support group isn't a substitute for regular medical care. Let your doctor know that you're participating in a support group. If you don't think a support group is appropriate for you, but you need help coping with your condition or situation, talk to your doctor about counseling or other types of therapy.