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When someone suggests a support group to help deal with loss, pain, or addiction, we may squirm a bit. We conjure up memories from movies we’ve watched or stories we’ve heard-people sitting in uncomfortable chairs in a circle, sharing embarrassing feelings with strangers, and eating bad donuts. Fortunately, most support groups have nothing in common with these incorrect assumptions. Though some of us may be hesitant to express our feelings with others, joining a community of like-minded individuals can be empowering, liberating, and life-saving.
Types of Support Groups
Though there are an infinite number of support groups, some of the most popular include-
· Addiction-Related Support Groups
· Bereavement/Grief Counseling
· Medical Support Groups
· Weight Loss Groups
· Mental Health/Illness Support
· Life Transition Groups
· Divorce Support Groups
· Family Support Groups
Benefits of Support Groups
Though receiving individual counseling and healing is the preferred method for many, joining a support group may be a beneficial component of an overall recovery strategy. Benefits include-
1. Feeling Less Lonely and Judged
It’s easy to feel lonely and isolated when we are struggling with a distressing issue. Joining a support group can help to remove this isolation and help us feel connected to others. It’s beneficial to be around people who understand exactly how an individual feels and what they are experiencing. This is particularly true for those struggling with addiction, a medical condition, or grief/bereavement.
2. Talking Openly About Feelings
A support group provides a safe space to speak openly and freely about what’s plaguing someone. It’s not very often that we have a chance to open up about how we feel in everyday life. Strangers ask how we are and we instinctively reply “good, how are you?”-but we don’t always feel fine. Even loved ones can’t always understand or relate to how we feel, and we don’t always want to plague them with all of our problems. A support group provides an opportunity for confidentiality and free speech.
3. Increase Motivation to Change
Individuals trying to change behavior have a difficult time doing it solely on their own. This is particularly true for those struggling with addiction or mental health issues. Going to a support group can help give a person a sense of accountability to the group. When the individual is not at the support group, he/she can contact a list of people and talk through a difficult time.
4. Gain a Sense of Hope
When we are alone and in distress, we tend to ruminate, get depressed, and worry ourselves sick. Connecting with others in a group gives us a sense of hope. When an individual sees another person succeeding (receiving a 6-month chip, entering a new relationship after losing a spouse, losing weight, etc.), he/she feels a sense of hope. There’s a high chance that if someone else can accomplish something-that person can as well.
5. Increase Knowledge
Most support group leaders/managers have done an enormous amount of research on the particular issue afflicting the group. They have compiled a list of resources, literature, and other materials to inform others about their condition. For example, those in AA use the Big Book to learn about the disease of alcoholism and what solutions are used to recover. Going to a support group can help an individual increase his/her knowledge about a particular issue. Knowledge is power-it provides us with the tools needed to change.
6. Getting Feedback
A person struggling with a loss may go to a counselor to receive help, but the therapist may not have any experience with loss. Though the therapist can give many good suggestions on how to cope, the individual won’t receive the type of comradery that comes from talking to someone who understands that type of pain. Going to a group provides an opportunity to receive real feedback from individuals in a similar situation. What have they done to get over a craving? How do they manage? What kind of things do they do for fun? How did they handle the first few days? All of these interactions with others can help improve the chances to recover from an affliction.
Are you struggling with addiction, anxiety, or depression? If so, please contact Straight Talk Counseling at 714-828-2000 or visit our website at straighttalkcounseling.org. One of our professional counselors will be happy to speak with you.