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The Value of Support Groups
by Dr. Dale V. Atkins, November 2007

In trying times, and even in good times, the need to be a part of a group of people with like interests and who are going through a similar life experience can be invaluable. Nobody but someone who has had a similar experience knows what it is like to, for example, survive the death of a spouse, lose a job, face a debilitating illness, be dependent on alcohol, or raise a child alone. In a support group you can convey your apprehensions and projections, and share ways to approach everyday challenges. Regularly meeting with those who have similar issues or concerns helps to develop a feeling of belonging and gives strength as well as helpful ways of approaching and /or coping with what one faces in life. Support groups generally provide an environment where participants feel nurtured, strengthened and encouraged.

For some of us, expressing and sharing feelings about our lives is difficult. To others, it is culturally inappropriate to discuss personal matters either at all or outside of the family. Even for those of us who do not have personal or cultural constraints, it is hard to communicate feelings of fear, confusion, skepticism, and mistrust even to those who are helping us manage whatever is our challenge.

Support groups can be powerful and valuable influences on the participants. Among other things, participants learn that they are not alone. Knowing that some other person is experiencing similar feelings and thoughts is a relief. Although you do not know the people in the group when you begin, close connections can form just because someone is facing something similar to what is happening in your life. And just that awareness allows you to accept that the scary parts of life appear to be a bit less threatening when they are navigated with others who have been through or are going along a similar road.

People gain companionship and understanding that emerge naturally from sharing experiences in a support group. Participants, reaching out to help one another, work on solving problems in a non-threatening setting. Since the purpose is to offer support and information that is specific to their interest, friendships develop based on mutuality and similar ordeals. Information is exchanged while people develop confidence in themselves. Slowly they learn to adapt and give meaning to their new role or challenge. Over time, at your own pace, you get the message that you are not alone and that you can do what is required of you.

Countless people report changes in their relationships, in their feelings about themselves and their families, in their understanding of the impact of whatever the issue is they are facing, and in their manner of communication when they participate in a support group. Support groups work because people feel better and more capable in them than alone.

"A shared joy is twice the joy. A shared sorrow is half the sorrow." - Parent at John Tracy Clinic Support Group.

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