Looking for a therapist can be a daunting task, especially if you have no prior experience in therapy. Therefore, support groups can be a powerful starting point for people looking for mental health help. Individual and group therapy are typically quite challenging because you have to talk about very uncomfortable experiences. As a result, due to the benefits of support groups, they are a very viable complement or precursor to therapy.
Here are some benefits of support groups:
- Support groups help you realize that you are not alone.
- You feel understood by like-minded people.
- Support groups teach you how to communicate your feelings.
- They can be an excellent medium between emotional support from a family and medical knowledge of a doctor.
- Other members can give you tips and advice to cope.
- Talking about emotions reduces their power.
- Support groups increase accountability.
- They give you hope so that you can move forward in life.
- Support groups help you understand yourself.
- They are easier on the wallet compared to therapy.
- Support groups are a great starting point for mental health help.
Read on to learn more about what exactly a support group is, the benefits of a support group, when you should seek one, and how to find one that is effective and works for you.
What is a Support Group?
A support group consists of people who have gone through or are currently going through similar struggles. Support group members provide each other with advice, emotional support, and insights, which help other members cope with their issues.
Support groups are typically based around struggles such as addiction, mental health issues, terminal illnesses such as cancer, chronic medical conditions, or caregiving. The group can be led by a member who has lived experience of the group’s issue, or a social worker, psychologist, or psychiatrist.
Benefits of Support Groups
The benefits of support groups alongside individual therapy outweigh being ONLY in individual therapy. While therapy is a crucial part of the process of healing or rebuilding your life, support groups can be a great supplement.
- Being fully understood by other people is the primary benefit of a support group.
- As a result, support groups can reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation.
- They help you learn to express your feelings.
- They can bridge the gap between emotional support from a family and the medical knowledge of a doctor.
- Support group members can offer useful tips and insights to help you cope.
- Talking about painful emotions reduces their power, and support groups encourage sharing.
- Support groups keep you accountable for treatment plans.
- They give you a sense of empowerment, control, and hope.
- You can gain an improved understanding of yourself, your issues and learn solutions that work for you.
- They are more affordable than individual therapy sessions.
- They are a great starting point to seek mental health help if therapy seems intimidating.
Qualities of Effective Support Groups
- A powerful support group has members who have lived experience of the group’s issues. As a result, they understand each other.
- A good support group should be small enough so that everyone has an opportunity to talk.
- Good support groups have a mental health professional or a volunteer who leads the discussion. That prevents it from going off-topic and on tangents.
- Effective support groups are based on specific issues and struggles.
- Good support groups have rules to prevent toxicity.
- They will meet at specific times and maintain a schedule so that attendance remains high.
- Maintaining a certain level of confidentiality is the mark of a good support group.
- Interpersonal conflicts are bound to arise in a support group. An effective one will address these immediately.
Are Online Support Groups Effective?
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, most support groups have started to meet online. There are a few pros and a few cons to this move:
- People can tune in from anywhere. As a result, online support groups enable flexibility of participation.
- People who don’t have any support groups near them can join one online and feel supported.
- They can provide some anonymity since you can hide information about yourself online.
- Anonymity can easily lead to toxicity if there is no face-to-face communication such as video chat.
- Misunderstandings can occur if the group only uses text communication.
- There is a higher chance of misinformation without a knowledgeable leader, especially if the group touches on topics that are medical in nature.
- Some people might feel disconnected from the group. That is because they might feel safer in the physical environment that the support group used to provide.
Support Group vs. Group Therapy
- Therapists lead group therapy sessions. That is because they are trained to deal with issues like clinical anxiety, depression, BPD, trauma, etc.
- Usually, support groups are led by people who have experience with the struggles that the group is going through.
- Support groups have an emphasis on coping. Members share tips and insights on how they live DESPITE their struggles.
- Group therapy aims to heal. This healing is significantly facilitated by the mental health professional, who helps the group members process their past and analyze their present.
- Support groups primarily focus on coping with a particular problem common to all members.
- Therapy deals with a variety of issues in a group. It depends on the focus of the session and the aims and structure of the group.
Primary Method of Support
- The primary method of support in support groups is coping and encouragement. People can share tips, insights, and emotional support, which reduces loneliness and isolation.
- Group therapy is more than JUST support. People also share experiences to get feedback from each other. However, group therapy can be more challenging compared to support groups because feedback can get very real.
- Support groups tend to encourage building relationships outside of group meetings. If you run into a member of your support group outside of the meeting venue, it is generally acceptable to check in on each other and ask about an issue they brought up in the meeting.
- Group therapy ensures that people maintain a strict degree of confidentiality. You are not allowed to share any instances from the meetings in an outside environment.
- Support groups are flexible, so members can come and go as they please.
- Group therapy starts with a fixed number of members. Moreover, new members cannot join without everyone’s agreement.
Why Should You Join a Support Group?
You should join a support group if:
- You feel isolated and alone.
- Your financial situation does not allow for therapy.
- You feel that you have gotten stuck in individual therapy and are not ready for group therapy yet.
- There is a feeling of hopelessness about being able to overcome your issues.
- You want to be held accountable by like-minded people who understand you.
- Therapy seems too intimidating, but you want to move forward in life.
- You want to learn from people who have similar struggles as you.
Whether you are taking the first step towards your mental health or have been in therapy for a while, a support group can be a great addition to your self-care practice. People who want to root for you and truly understand you are an immensely powerful advantage. That is one of the main benefits of support groups.
It is crucial to have emotional support from family and friends, along with the support and knowledge of a medical professional. However, support groups can help you in ways that neither the people closest to you nor professionals can. As a result, they are an excellent complement to both of those resources. Consider seeking a support group today.