When you face a personal hardship, it can feel like you’re the only person in the world who understands. Support groups offer people the chance to connect with others dealing with similar problems and receive the emotional support they need to remain optimistic and move forward.
Support groups can be found for just about anything including addiction, health problems, LGBTQ+ and mental illness. There are also support groups for family and friends of people with mental health concerns such as alcoholism or borderline personality disorder.
Finding a support group can be a vital part of your treatment or emotional well-being. If you’re currently seeing a therapist, then a support group can be used in addition to treatment. For friends and family members, support groups offer a chance to connect with others in the same position and gain valuable acceptance and guidance.
Read on to discover five major benefits to support groups.
1. Lose Shame and Guilt
It can be extremely difficult to talk about your mental illness, health problems or personal situations with people who do not understand them. You may feel like you wind up spending more time defending yourself and trying to educate others than you do receiving any support.
It’s natural to feel embarrassed, ashamed or even guilty for dealing with certain problems, but support groups give you a safe environment to express all of your feelings without fear of judgement or retaliation.
2. Express Yourself Better
Support groups encourage members to talk openly about their feelings. For some people, this is the hardest thing in the world. The opportunity to speak what’s on your mind can be incredibly cathartic, especially as you gain positive feedback and learn how to be a better speaker and listener.
David Susman, a clinical psychologist, explains how support groups can improve social skills. “Often, mental illness or addiction has contributed to withdrawal from social situations. Support groups provide a safe place to become comfortable around others once more,” he says on his blog.
3. Gain Valuable Information
It’s important to understand that support groups are not the same thing as group therapy. According to the Mayo Clinic, group therapy is a designated form of mental health treatment that includes multiple people with the same or similar condition and guidance from a licensed counselor, social worker or psychologist.
Support groups are more grounded in education and expression rather than actual treatment; they are hosted mostly by non-profit organizations and associations and include a variety of resources about certain conditions and experiences that can be incredibly helpful. There many also be opportunities to learn from professional guest speakers like nurses, doctors, psychologists or social workers.
4. Feel Less Lonely
One of the most liberating benefits of a support group is the realization that you aren’t alone in your struggles. While your pain and circumstances are unique, it can be an immense relief to realize that other people go through similar feelings and have overcome similar problems. You’re most likely going to meet people in the group who are further along in their journey than you, and their stories can serve as sources of hope and inspiration.
5. Discover More About Yourself
While support groups shouldn’t be used as substitutes for individual therapy, they can be a good gateway into counseling that can help people begin to gain a greater sense of self-awareness and gain comfort and security from others.
By sharing your story, you’ll be able to gain a greater sense of who you are and how you feel. Sometimes, all we need is an outlet to openly express our honest thoughts and feelings to reach life-changing realizations.
If you’ve never been to a support group, you may be hesitant to attend a face-to-face meeting. Consider an online support group first. Try to slowly build confidence and ease your way into attending physical meetings. Getting out, being social and connecting with others is one of the most powerful ways to overcome some of life’s greatest challenges.