We all need support. When our lives are tethered online, is there a secure, trustworthy, and healthy way to get the best of both worlds?
The pandemic has changed plenty about how we care for our mental health — including in-person support groups. But just because support platforms might look different doesn’t mean you have to abandon your treatment altogether.
A credible online support group can help you continue to nurture your specific mental wellness needs.
No set professional criteria exist for online support groups. The upside is, you can find a support group in many forums across the internet, giving you the benefit of nearly limitless choices.
But perhaps you’re looking for the camaraderie of a group setting that also has the accreditation of a licensed professional guiding the meeting.
Resources like the American Group Psychotherapy Association can help connect you with a group therapist certified by the International Board of Certification of Group Psychotherapists.
Acknowledging the need for help and support can bring feelings of uncertainty and vulnerability. If taking the first step of attending an in-person support group is intimidating, an online support group may be a perfect fit.
You may prefer an online support group if any of the following apply to you:
- You would like more anonymity than in-person meetings.
- You’re looking for convenient support that fits a busy schedule.
- You live with social anxiety or agoraphobia.
- You are quarantining or following physical distancing guidelines.
- You live in an area without the type of support resources you need.
- Accessibility to physical locations is not possible.
Online support groups are geared toward connecting folks with others who can identify with a specific condition or life circumstance. Online support groups typically:
- foster community
- help build coping strategies
- strive for personal resilience
On the other hand, group therapy is facilitated by a licensed professional. The camaraderie is still an important part of these groups, but therapy groups may focus more intently on treatment and behavioral changes outside the group.
Finding the right online support group or therapy group may not happen immediately, and that’s OK. To set yourself up for success, make sure to research before committing to a session.
If the group is peer-led, read reviews and recommendations from members. You’re trusting this group with your vulnerable experiences and feelings, so it’s important that you feel comfortable and confident in your online support group.
Since online support groups don’t have accreditation standards, you’ll need to trust your gut and listen to your instinct if you find the particular group you’ve chosen to be unhelpful.
Suggestions for vetting online therapy groups
“To find a group, first narrow down options to find groups that specialize in topics that you find interesting or beneficial for your specific issue,” suggests Amanda Levison, a licensed professional counselor from Neurofeedback and Counseling Center of Pennsylvania.
“Then, explore the approaches the groups will take to work toward their goals,” Levinson advises.
“Additionally, learn about the therapist who is guiding the group. If you’re unable to find information about their credentials online, you may choose to contact them or the company they work with so that you can make an informed choice.
“Finding a therapist or support group that works for you might be trial and error, but doing research and gathering information will help you make a selection that works for you,” she says.
The Anxiety & Depression Association of America offers anonymous peer-to-peer online support groups to help strengthen the network of connections while on your anxiety treatment journey.
We’ve put together a list of top picks for anxiety support, too.
If you’re living with bipolar disorder and feeling isolated, consider a peer-led group like the ones hosted at the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance.
These support groups offer an outlet to share your feelings with others who have firsthand experience with bipolar disorder management.
It’s fairly common for depression to occur alongside another mental health condition, like anxiety or bipolar disorder.
If you prefer a group that focuses solely on depression and not on a coexisting condition, then LiveWell online support groups may provide your ideal outlet.
The National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) also provides support education groups.
Virtual group therapy, like those provided at the Eating Disorder Foundation, can be especially helpful for people with an eating disorder to dispel negative thought patterns and reinforce a supportive association with food and body perceptions.
Listening and considering the coping mechanisms of others with a personality disorder in your trusted group can significantly improve your day-to-day life when put into practice. Consider the virtual groups at Emotions Matter for those managing borderline personality disorder, for example.
Substance use/dual diagnosis
Substance use disorder comes in many forms. Because of the stigma still attached to this condition, many people have a difficult time seeking help.
Now that you’ve learned how online support groups work, what they can do for you, and where to find the one(s) for your mental health management, all that’s left is to start doing your research and dive in.
It may feel overwhelming at first, but remember that you can ask your doctor or therapist for support group recommendations that will align with their treatment management plan.
Just like the medication management side of your treatment, online support groups are beneficial long term, and can be revisited along the way.
Mental wellness is a whole picture, not just a single, monochromatic stroke. Finding your best combination therapy is fluid and customizable. You’re the artist, so enjoy the process and be open to adaptation.