Finding and Attending a Support Group
As you can see, I have become convinced of the value of support groups. If you are not a member of a support group, and want to widen your circle of friends and connections with others, you may be asking, “How does one find a group to join?”
You can begin by looking at the Community Calendar in your newspaper. They may have notices of support groups that are open to new members, including:
- Groups for women or men;
- Groups for people of certain ages (like a group for women in menopause or for men who are retiring);
- Groups for people with special needs or conditions (like caregivers, cancer patients, diabetes patients, people attempting weight loss, or people working to address addictions or bereavement);
- Groups for people who have “special circumstances” (like having a parent with Alzheimer’s, being recently divorced, or being a crime victim); or
- Groups for people with common interests (like book clubs, bridge players and hikers).
A “12-Step” group that addresses an issue in your life, such as alcohol addiction or weight control, may sound right to you. You might locate a group by calling your local mental health center or community help line. Your physician or counselor might be able to direct you to a group. Ask your family members, friends, neighbors and colleagues for help in locating groups.
The next step is the hardestgoing the first time. Everyone has a hard time going to a support group the first time. Sometimes, it’s hard to make yourself go, even if you enjoy the group and have been attending for some time. Excuses like the following may keep you from going:
- I’m too tired when I get home in the evening.
- I’m fearful of meeting new people.
- I’m afraid I won’t be liked.
- I’m afraid I won’t be welcomed.
- It feels very risky.
- Transportation is difficult.
- I can’t find a group that seems to fit me.
- I don’t like to tell others what’s going on with me.
Try to get past those issues, figure out how to do it, and go.
Attend a support group several times before making a decision about whether it is the right one for you. Every group can have an off night in which things just don’t “gel.” You will know if this is not the right group for you if, after a few meetings, you still feel like an outsider. Don’t give up! Search out another group.
If you are going to attend a support group and connect with the other people in the group, you must feel safe there. Many groups address this need by having a set of guidelines or rules for the group, sometimes called a safety contract. At one of the first group meetings, the members can discuss what they need to feel safe in the group. While this list varies from group to group, depending on the purpose and focus of the group, some of the most common guidelines are agreements that:
- Personal information shared in the group will not be shared with anyone outside of the group meeting.
- Group members do not tell people outside of the group who attends the group.
- There is no interrupting when a person is speaking or sharing.
- Everyone gets a chance to share. Some groups limit each person’s sharing time to 10 minutes to insure that everyone gets time to speak.
- If you don’t feel like talking or sharing, you don’t have to.
- Members are respectful of each other and treat each other with mutual high regard.
- Judging, criticizing, teasing or “put-downs” are not allowed.
- Group members give other group members feedback only when it is requested.
- A person may leave the group whenever she or he wants or needs to take care of personal needs, to be comfortable, or to attend to other responsibilities.
- Attendance is optional.