Why do people join support groups?
- To give and receive support among like-minded others.
- Just knowing that you aren’t alone with a problem can provide the greatest benefit.
- The wisdom and experience of others in the group may help you find a solution for your situation.
- Often, simply airing your concerns in a supportive atmosphere can be a healing factor.
- A support group can also be fun, as people learn to laugh at our human shortcomings.
Support groups may form around a particular issue or be based on a particular type of group member (e.g., women, teens, single dads). Basically, there are two main types of support group:
- Professionally led support groups
- Peer-support, self-help or mutual help groups.
Support groups can be ongoing, or can run for a specified or limited time period. In general, groups that are professionally led tend to be time-limited, and last for a certain number of weeks or months, whereas self-help or peer support groups tend to be ongoing.
Professionally led support groups
Support groups led by professionals tend to provide the best of both worlds – the benefit of having a skilled and experienced leader plus the advantage of being with peers, who can also provide helpful input.
Unlike most self-help groups, certain professionally-led groups offer general support to participants for a wide range of concerns – whatever the individual chooses to bring to the group. This type of group can be quite surprising, as group members find out how much they have in common.
People who attend professionally-led support groups tend to feel safer and more comfortable when someone with experience and knowledge of the issue is in charge.
Groups can sometimes tend to get a bit rowdy, or can be taken over by a few individuals who may dominate the group, knowingly or otherwise. With an experienced facilitator, this is more likely to be nipped in the bud.
A skilled, experienced, professional group facilitator or leader:
- Helps group members set ground rules and guidelines so the group functions in the best way possible.
- Understands and is able to communicate the importance of confidentiality and creating a safe space for each member.
- Has the ability to keep the group on track, and to ensure that everyone who wants to share gets a chance to do so.
- Knows how to support people with differing views
- Understands how to deal with any conflicts that may arise, and is able to provide mediation, if necessary, between different factions that may develop in the group.
- Is able to provide helpful intervention for each group participant.
- Can see the bigger picture and the larger themes that are being dealt with in the group.
- Knows how to gauge and direct the energy in the group towards some beneficial outcome.
- Knows how to motivate people and bring out their best.
- Understands the various stages that groups go through, and work accordingly.
Each person has their own idea of what “support” means.
- It can mean being heard or being seen for who and what you really are.
- It can mean being understood, perhaps for the first time.
- Support can entail hearing other people’s points of view, which can give you another perspective on your problem
- Support can also entail learning to set boundaries and say you don’t want feedback on a particular issue
- Learning how to receive support can be an important life lesson for some, who tend to operate more on the giving side.
- Support can be a smile or a nod indicating shared experience.
Some professionally-led groups offer general support to participants for whatever their problem. This type of group can be quite surprising, as group members find how much they have in common.
What does support mean to you?
If you would like to preregister for an upcoming support group, fill out the contact form (on the menu) or phone 416-654-6453.