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Support Group Savvy

By Kristine Dwyer, Staff Writer

(Page 2 of 3)

Types of Groups

Support groups focus on a myriad of needs and topics across the nation. These include caregiver support, living with acute and chronic diseases, grief and loss, self-help, mental health, parenting, and many more. Yet, all groups have one thing in common; they address the emotional, physical and often spiritual aspects of a disease process or life experience and members uphold each other through a common bond.

Groups may feature formal speakers, focus on open discussions or even sponsor social opportunities, recreational activities, and fundraisers. Most groups are open to the public and participants are free to join at any time, while others may offer an education and support series for a period of six to 12 weeks.

A medical professional, social worker, psychologist or even a former caregiver usually facilitates support and education groups. A trained and effective facilitator should be empathetic, keep the communication flowing, address personal needs, have knowledge of resources and balance the discussions between those members who may tend to monopolize the group and those who are less assertive.

Successful support groups appear to thrive if they use the following guidelines:
Label the group a “coffee chat” or “breakfast club” if the word “support” does not draw attendance.

Attentively listen, show respect for each other and uphold the importance of confidentiality.

Involve members in leadership and group direction to ensure that members “own” the group.

Embrace new members and maintain present ones through a mentor system.
Offer a combination of sharing and growth opportunities through open discussions and educational speakers.

Strive for a positive and comfortable atmosphere that allows for open sharing where people can feel accepted and needed.

New Trends

In this day and age there are numerous options available that go beyond the scope of the traditional group meeting. The biggest growth is in the area of technology through online computer support. If you’ve ever been interested in joining a caregiver support group, but find it difficult to personally attend a meeting, online groups may be the answer.

The Internet offers many opportunities for individuals to “meet” online, problem-solve, share information and experiences and ultimately receive support. Online groups offer several formats such as discussion forums, message boards, chat rooms, and email discussion groups (called “listservs”). Some Web sites offer groups that are staffed by trained professionals, while others are run by caregivers, family members or patients themselves. Online support groups can be accessed, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This is a plus for caregivers and the like who can’t find quiet time until the late hours of the night.


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