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Support Groups and Social Support - Topic Overview

Health problems like cancer or heart disease and mental health problems like substance abuse or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have an emotional side. And the same is true for certain life events, like being a parent or caring for someone who has a chronic illness. Your life changes. And you may need a shoulder to cry on or someone to talk to. You may need a ride to the doctor or a night out. You need support.

Support takes many forms. You can find support in seminars and groups led by professionals, in groups of others who have the same problem, and in your relationships with family and friends.

If you have a support network, you will not feel as alone. You'll learn new ways to deal with your problem, and you may try harder to overcome it. Social support can play an important role in recovery.

Support groups and peer support

Self-help and support groups can be very helpful for some people. These groups usually consist of people with similar problems who meet to give support, practical advice, and encouragement to the people who participate in the group.

Self-help and support groups are different from counseling sessions. These groups may last for only a few sessions or they may be ongoing.

Self-help and support groups:

  • Are run by members of the group. Group members help each other solve problems.
  • Meet regularly, usually once a week. Some groups may meet only as needed.
  • Can be attended by both the person who has the condition and his or her family and friends. Membership may vary. Talk with someone in the group before attending for the first time.
  • Usually work best if all members participate. It is not important to talk in the group, especially if it is your first time. Listening (and offering silent encouragement by smiling and paying attention) is also a way of taking part.

Joining a self-help or support group does not take the place of counseling. Some people who attend these groups also need to participate in regular counseling sessions with a health professional.

Self-help or support groups are not for everyone. Some people feel uncomfortable talking in a group. Attend a group meeting at least three times before you choose not to go back. Then you can make a better decision about whether taking part in a self-help or support group is good for you.

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