Support groups are organizations of people who share a common disorder, like depression or anxiety, and who meet together to discuss their experiences, share ideas, and provide emotional support for one another. Usually a support group is led by a member who has had some training in facilitating group discussions. Unlike formal group therapy, self-help support groups are usually not led by a professional therapist (such as a social worker, psychologist, nurse, or psychiatrist) but nevertheless can be a helpful coping tool to complement formal treatment. For some types of problems, such as bereavement after the death of a loved one, or coping with a chronic medical condition like cancer, hospitals or community agencies often provide support groups led by a social worker or other counselor.
Benefits of Support Groups
Probably the biggest advantage of support groups is helping a patient realize that he or she is not alone -- that there are other people who have the same problems. This is often a revelation and a huge relief to the person.
Being in a support group can also help you develop new skills to relate to others. In addition, the members of the group who have the same problems can support each other and may suggest new ways of dealing with a particular problem.
When joining a support group, you may be uncomfortable at first when it comes time to discuss problems in front of strangers. However, the fact that others are facing the same type of situation may help you open up and discuss your feelings. In addition, everything that takes place within the support group should be kept confidential.
What to Expect in a Support Group
Support groups vary, but the basic format is a small group of people (maybe no more than 10) meet on a regular basis to discuss their experiences and provide mutual support. Unlike formal group therapy, the meeting is often led by a lay person or group member with some training in facilitating group discussions. The group leader may act as a moderator.
Am I a Candidate for a Support Group?
Support groups can help anyone who is in need of emotional support for a particular problem like anxiety, addiction, or depression, especially for people who may feel isolated or feel that other people in their lives don't fully understand the kinds of problems they may be struggling with. Support groups are not a substitute for individual or group therapy or professional counseling.
The makeup of the support group varies; usually a support group is made up of people who have a similar condition or problem (like depression or anxiety) but in some cases, the group consists of people who have different specific disorders (like a variety of mental health or medical conditions) but share a common goal of seeking emotional support.
Medical Insurance Coverage for Support Groups
Unlike formal group therapy, self-help or support groups are not medical treatment and therefore not covered by medical insurance. However, they are usually free or may have a nominal fee and are typically supported by hospitals, religious institutions, or non-profit agencies.