Emotional Support Groups: Are They Right For Me?

“I know I have friends, but I feel like I have no one to talk to who really understands me.”

Do you ever feel alone with your thoughts and feelings, like no one truly understands the challenges and struggles that you are facing?  If so, it is important to know that you do not have to suffer whatever challenges life throws at you alone.  Support groups can be a great resource to easily connect you with others facing similar struggles and help you to successfully navigate whatever storm you are facing.

What are support groups?

Support groups are a type of psychotherapy where individuals come together to discuss a common challenge or concern.  Some support groups are peer led while others are led by professional group facilitators, many who are licensed mental health counselors or family and marriage therapists.  Typically, support groups range from 4-20 individuals and meet for an hour, one to two times per week.  Support groups often focus on specific topics and are excellent healing tools for those suffering from grief, infertility, a cancer diagnosis, depression, divorce and many other life challenges.   

Support group participants take turns sharing their feelings, their struggles and their hopes for the future.  Group facilitators define the group dynamics, encourage discussion with creative prompts, provide participant feedback and gently check in with and encourage quiet group members.  Support groups can stand alone as a form of therapy or they can be an excellent complement to individual therapy. 

Find your people

With coronavirus stay at home orders and social distancing in effect taking support groups online is now a necessity.  The first step in getting support is finding the right group for you, made up of people that you relate to and can identify with.   Taking the group into a virtual space removes many of the structural barriers, including lack of group availability due to geographic location, hindrance due to a participant’s mobility issues, and travel difficulties that in the past have made finding and joining a support group difficult.  Online support groups also allow participants to find a group that fits their schedule.  Online support group participants frequently report that being able to log in to a group from the comfort of their own home makes them feel less vulnerable and self-conscious about sharing feelings and personal details of their lives.  Many online support groups allow participants to remain anonymous and this further creates a comfortable environment, which feels encouraging and safe to share in. 

Better together: how can a support group benefit me?

Joining a support group can be a healthy step toward healing if you are struggling with illness or a life challenge.  The wide range of benefits that support groups provide can be found in person groups or in online groups.  Many people find that the opportunity to share their stories and resources with others facing a similar challenge can be cathartic and therapeutic.  Connecting with others that are not there to judge and that really understand your struggles can be invaluable.  Additional benefits are many, including:

  • Feeling less lonely
  • Normalization of feelings and emotions
  • Reduced feelings of distress, anxiety and depression
  • Increased coping skills
  • Increased sense of empowerment from sharing your own unique story
  • Increased knowledge and sharing of resources about other successful forms of treatment
  • Positive emotional and physical health outcomes

Joining a support group might seem scary or even uncomfortable at first, especially if it is the first time that you are talking about or exploring your feelings.  However, most support group participants remark that within the first two to three group sessions that their fears lessen and they really enjoy the process of becoming active participants in shared discussion.   There is an old saying that rings so much truth —  “a problem shared is a problem halved.”  So, the next time that life becomes challenging or seems overwhelming remember there is always support from like-minded people waiting for you.  And just as the support that the group provides to you will be invaluable, the unique and unwavering gifts and support that you provide will be invaluable to your group.  

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