What are support groups?
In our lifetime there are many times when it feels as if nobody understands how we feel. Such a situation is even more common if you are in some way different from the majority or in case your life experiences have been different from the rest; for instance, someone who is dealing with a severe illness or a major life event which is uncommon to most. In such a situation being around people who have previously or are presently dealing with the same situation as yours provides a comfortable and safe space to talk and can also help you in navigating your way through it. This is the essence of a support group.
A support group is a form of community outreach intervention in which individuals with common experiences or concerns come together to share them with each other and build a place of comfort and understanding. Members at times also share information and resources that are relevant to the people of the group and can help them.
These groups meet in sizes that make an interpersonal interaction possible among the members on a regular basis. Some support groups follow an open for all format while others have a proper membership accompanied with a fee that is required to organize the meetings. Although, in person meetings are the norm, nowadays online support groups are also in place.
These groups can either be self help support groups which are completely managed by its own members, mostly on voluntary basis or they could be professionally operated support groups. In the latter, a social worker or psychologist acts as a facilitator that gives direction to the interactions that take place and makes sure that it helps in the growth of the person.
What are the kinds of support groups in place?
There are many groups of people who have formed support groups with those who uniquely identify with them. Those in place currently include those suffering from a certain disease or health condition which sets them apart or those who have been socially labeled as different by the society.
Some examples are:
• LGBTQIA Community
• Intellectually Gifted Individuals
• Individuals dealing with mental disorders such as Depression, Anxiety Disorders, Autism, ADHD, Eating Disorders etc.
• Family members of individuals dealing with physical or mental health condition
• Addiction and Substance Abuse affected Individuals
• Suicide Prevention Groups
• Groups for dealing with grief
• AIDS Support Groups
• Cancer Support groups
• Domestic violence or sexual abuse survivors
What is the role of a facilitator?
Some support groups have a facilitator in their meetings who makes sure that the goals of the meeting are achieved and to make sure that each individual feels comfortable and welcome in the group and gets the opportunity to grow. They also assess the situation that an individual is facing and suggest other forms of help if needed such as rehab, medical examination or therapy.
It is important to understand that attending a support group cannot equate to seeking professional help or therapy in any way and a facilitator cannot play the role of a psychotherapist or a psychiatrist who has been trained in providing psychological treatment. It is only a way through which one can give and receive social support from others who are like them. If one requires help beyond that they should seek a mental health professional.
Do support groups actually benefit an individual?
When dealing with something uncommon, it’s often a relief to find there are others like us, especially when you start feeling alone and misunderstood. It helps individuals in finding a sense of belongingness which is an essential need for human beings. They also help in providing a sense of hope; ‘If others could manage this, so can I.”
Let’s consider the story of Mili:
Mili has recently come out of an abusive relationship. Although she wants to share her experiences and relieve herself of the emotional burden, she feels embarrassed to talk to any of her friends and family. Along with this she still feels unsafe and is contemplating taking a legal action against her partner but does not know the way through. In such a situation she joins a support group for those who have been in toxic and abusive relationship and upon hearing others stories, she finds the courage to tell her own. After a few weeks she shares her dilemma about legal action and one of the members who has previously been in the same situation provides her the contact of a lawyer and answered all her questions regarding the procedure.
From being a lost and scared individual who had already faced so many hardships to becoming someone whose journey motivated other members of the group to battle their demons, a support group took Mili a long way. Of course she had to walk the road of hardships on her own but now she had a hand to hold through the way. This is how a person can benefit from a support group.
Even though support groups have many benefits and provide the much needed social support it is important to understand that it may not help everyone in a similar way and some might find it more problematic than useful. Each individual is unique in his/her own way and has a different liking for things. In such a case one should venture further into other forms of intervention so as to get the right form of help for one’s situation.
Kannagi Goswami is a 19 year old with a passion for putting her thoughts into well phrased words. Currently, she is a student of Psychology who wants to pursue clinical psychology and hopefully make a dent in the state of Indian mental health.