Support groups typically involve one or more therapists who lead a group of roughly five to 15 patients. Typically, groups meet for an hour or two each week. Some people attend individual therapy in addition to groups, while others participate in groups only.
Groups usually form to focus on a specific mental health problem or illness. They may also be created for the loved ones of people suffering from a mental illness or recent loss. At meetings, people share their stories, express their pain and listen to others as a way to work through issues. Some groups run for a short-term (up to twelve weeks) or they can be continuous, based on need.
Support groups use different types of methods that have noted rates of effectiveness, especially for addiction. At meetings, participants gather with a therapist or psychologist who helps guide the discussion and makes sure that conversations stay productive and respectful. Support groups help members learn about themselves, how to open up, and how to improve the issue(s) that brought them to the group in the first place.
Shared Understanding and Connection
While the thought of sharing painful issues in a support group may be intimidating, it should not be a process to fear. People often think that they are the only ones who are experiencing pain of a certain magnitude. This is because people put on masks when they venture out in the world. So it can be difficult to realize that all people experience pain and that no one is immune to suffering.
Support groups drastically reduce isolation (which is where mental illness can grow).
Also, they give others the chance to be transparent and honest. At meetings, people freely share their struggles and stories. When everyone participates, people realize that they are not alone, and as a result, they help each other heal.
Support groups are open to anyone. They are moderated by a licensed mental health professional that specializes in the support group’s issue. In other scenarios, less informal support groups may be peer run.
It is important to give the meetings a chance to find out if it is the right setting for you. Like individualized therapy, support groups are confidential and you should feel safe and at ease. If you do not feel comfortable, it may not be the right group or setting for you. Don’t settle. Keep seeking out various groups. There is a right fit for everyone.
Kinds of Support Groups
There are many different kinds of support groups. Specialized groups are available nationwide, from both private practice clinicians and organizations.
Specialized support groups are offered for people suffering from drug or alcohol addiction, anxiety, depression, obesity, bipolar disorder, sexual abuse, gambling addiction, shopping addiction, obsessive-compulsive disorder, eating disorders, postpartum disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and self-harm (self-mutilation). However, there are more specialized support groups becoming available every day.
Additionally, there are gender specific support groups available for domestic abuse survivors and other issues. Bereavement support groups are also common for people experiencing the death of a child, the death of a loved one from suicide and other types of loss.
Addiction Support Groups
Addiction support groups like Narcotics Anonymous, Alcoholics Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, Alanon family groups, or SMART recovery provide assistance in combating the effects of addiction. “Research has consistently and clearly demonstrated that active involvement in self-help support groups significantly improves a person’s chances of long-term recovery and these free support groups exist in most communities – in practically every village and town across America.”
Support groups help recovering addicts develop honesty, openness and the ability to handle challenges facing them in the present moment. Addiction is often fueled by the desire to run from problems and support groups urge people to change those inclinations. Anything that keeps us from reality is dangerous in the long-term. Within groups, participants hold others accountable to engage with problems in the present.
Who Support Groups Help
Bereavement support groups are beneficial for families and loved ones experiencing unmanageable grief. Group counseling not only helps family members who have experienced a death, but may also be for people undergoing other kinds of losses, like a divorce or job termination.
Symptoms of grief can consist of everything from shock and anger to despair and denial. If left unmanaged, these emotions can become problematic for the individual and the people closest to them. When grief and loss become overpowering, other mental health illnesses may develop. For instance, grief can be a major cause of prolonged depression, and when depression symptoms intensify, substance abuse or suicidal ideation may also occur.
Benefits of a Support Group
Studies have compared the effectiveness of support groups versus individual therapy. Group settings have been shown to be just as beneficial in treating certain mental health problems as individualized counseling.
Support groups provide a clear understanding that everyone suffers. It is an inescapable component of human life. This realization becomes reiterated in group sessions. Participants hear fellow peers’ experiences and it can ease loneliness and isolation.
Groups can push others forward. Hearing about how a fellow participant realized the cause of their addiction or how someone had a good day after months of depression, can inspire hope and motivation. It also pushes people to participate, to offer feedback and to find out more.
Groups also support the individual, while posing important questions. The exchange of information from group members generates safety and transparency. Group members develop bonds, which can help an individual through a painful loss or recovery. It is a powerful experience that affects each participant’s physical, emotional, and spiritual sides.
Through developed trust and vulnerability, participants build connections and learn coping skills. Those experiencing a job loss, a divorce, or the loss of a loved one will realize that they are not alone in their pain.
Specialized groups offer the one thing people truly need: support. Painful trauma occurs within the parameters of relationships, so it’s fitting that recovery happens within group relationships, too.