Support Groups: How to Make the Most of them

What to expect from a support group and how to get the most out of attending one. Topics include sharing your story and problems, getting and giving advice, and respecting differences of opinions and philosophies

Ithaca, NY, April 13, 2006 --( There are many support groups available where people meet to help each other with a variety of problems and conditions, such as drug addiction, alcoholism, depression, grieving, dieting, and more.

If you are thinking about joining a group or starting one in your community, here are some tips from author Lynne Taetzsch on what to expect and how to get the most from your group.

Sharing Your Story and Problems:

Other than hiring a therapist, a support group offers the perfect place to talk about yourself and your problems. You'll be with people who are going through the same things you are. They know what you mean when you talk about sleepless nights, depression, anxiety, guilt-whatever it is you're suffering at the moment.

The flip side of telling your own story, of course, is respectful listening to other people's problems. This is a gift people offer each other in support groups. They listen with empathy. They respect others' points of view, acknowledge their emotions, and allow them to express whatever it is they are feeling.

Getting and Giving Advice:

Support groups are a great place to get advice from those more experienced than you are, and to share our own experience when it's called for. The key to giving advice in a support group is simple: only give it when it's asked for. Sometimes members just want to vent their feelings and to explore their situation out loud to a group of supportive listeners. Very often, you can't really solve another person's problem, but you can listen attentively.

If you're not sure whether to give advice or not, it's best to simply ask. After you're in a group for a while, however, you'll usually get a feel for when it's appropriate and when not.

Respecting Differences of Opinions and Philosophies:

Think of a support group as a place to share ideas while respecting differences. One member may be a believer in alternative medicine. Another may think faith is the best cure. One of the benefits of going to a support group is to hear different experiences and opinions. You don't have to follow anyone else's advice, but it is important to listen respectfully to all.

Along with listening and sharing is the necessity for confidentiality. In order for everyone to feel free to speak what's on their mind, they have to be confident that what they say in that room will remain there.

Support groups take some effort to maintain, and usually there are one or two people who take responsibility for this. Some support groups are sponsored and run by a paid facilitator, others are run by members. People take turns facilitating, and share the administrative tasks like notifying newspapers to list meeting times.

As you become more familiar with your group, you may want to share in its administration. Over time you may also find, as Lynne has, that your group is not only a source of comfort and advice, but lasting friendship as well.

Lynne Taetzsch