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Support Groups: Finding the Right One

At one point in everyone’s life, there comes a time where having a little extra support would be beneficial. But where do you go for this help? Who do you contact? How do you search for groups in your area with specific interests? I thought it would be useful to provide some insight to what support groups provide, types of groups that exists, how these groups work and how to find local ones in your area. 

Support groups are designed for people who experience stressful life changes. These changes could be impacted by medical or mental health changes, relational or occupational shifts and even personal desires for behavior modification. Within a support group you are encouraged to make connections with other members of your group to help alleviate negative emotions brought on by these stressful life changes. Sometimes your friends and family members will not understand your stressful event. Engaging with individuals who face similar issues provides an opportunity for people to share their life experiences, give advice to hardships and ultimately remind you that you are not alone in your struggle.
Additionally, having extra support outside of your immediate circle (family and friends) provides a safe place to truly open up and discuss emotional difficulties you have had throughout the week. A support group offers assistance for you to use more effective coping strategies and feel less isolated within your circumstance. I do want to point out that support group should not replace medical care. It is a valuable resource to aid you in moments of crisis, but if medical necessity is required, please refer to your physician.  
Looking closer at support groups, it’s important to understand that each one focuses on a common interest. For instance, support groups exist for individuals with medical conditions (cancer, diabetes, heart disease, long-term caregiving, etc.), mental health concerns (depression, anxiety, mood disruptions, substance abuse, etc.) and addictions (alcoholism, narcotic dependency, overeating, sex, etc.). I would also like to stress that support groups are not group therapy. While some support groups are led by licensed professionals, they do not follow group therapy guidelines. Group therapy is formal by design and always has a mental health professional trained to process the group’s area of concern.  
Support groups are often lead by individuals, or lay person, who have experienced your situation in some fashion and would like to provide encouragement to others as they face similar difficulties. Many times, groups are created by nonprofit organizations, community mental health clinics, Anonymous sponsors and advocacy organizations.
These groups not only have different interests at hand, they are available in variety of formats and venues. For instance, they meet in person, over the Internet and even by phone. Support groups are designed to be informative, educational and structured. So don’t be surprised if guest speakers attend your group or extra material is provided to you at the end of a session.
The benefits of support groups include:
·         Feeling less isolated and alone
·         Reduce feelings of judgment
·         Improve coping strategies and communication
·         Increase your sense of control; empower you
·         Reduce your distress
·         Educate you on your circumstance and choices you have
·         Provide practical advice (sometimes treatment options)
·         Even allow you to compare resources and treatment options
Finding a support group in your area is easier than ever. You might want to first begin with suggestions from your current provider. Your doctor, therapist, nurse, social worker or pastor typically have some insight for support groups to fit your needs. If these resources do not work, navigating the Internet is a great option. Using the following sites may be helpful:
If you have some time, you might consider contacting local community centers including churches, mosques, synagogues and even libraries to inquire about support groups held at their locations. Organizations devoted to your cause will more than likely have resources for you. Newspapers and telephone books also have listings for support groups. Don’t forget, you can always ask individuals YOU know who have experienced similar stressful life changes. People who know you best can help guide you to the right support group to fit your needs.
Remember: whatever hardship or condition you face, you are not alone. Chances are there are more people than you would expect who are going through similar difficulties in life. It’s your job to reach out and find a group that fits you best. – Don’t be afraid to try different ones out. – Whether it’s in person or over the internet, you CAN find a group that will help you overcome and cope with life’s stressors.

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