1. to bear or hold up (a load, mass, structure, part, etc.); serve as a foundation for
2. to sustain or withstand (weight, pressure, strain, etc.) without giving way; serve as a prop for
3. to undergo or endure, especially with patience or submission; tolerate
4. to sustain (a person, the mind, spirits, courage, etc.) under trial or affliction: They supported him throughout his ordeal.
5. to maintain (a person, family, establishment, institution, etc.) by supplying with things necessary to existence; provide for: to support a family
It is a human condition to want to connect with like-minded individuals. A support group allows you to share openly with others whose experiences may be similar and who can validate or relate to what you are going through. Additionally, the other individuals may be able to offer insight, understanding and a “sounding board” for frustrations.
What exactly do you look for when seeking the support group that you need? My favorite definition from the above list for “support” as it relates to support groups is number four: to sustain. For me, this connotes empowerment and a positive experience rather than simply an exchange or a purging of my emotions to a group of strangers. When my son was first diagnosed with a mental illness, other parents just could not relate to the behaviors I was describing. I felt isolated. Worse, I felt like an inadequate parent. A support group allowed me to discuss issues with other parents who understood what I was going through. When their heads starting nodding, I knew I had found the acceptance that I needed, a safe haven to share without judgment.
Support groups can be an essential part of surviving and thriving through a crisis situation and an ongoing trial in life. A support group should help you take an active rather than a passive role in whatever situation you are experiencing. This can only be accomplished through the help of a well-trained facilitator and a well-organized group. I must point out that support groups are not a replacement for therapy. However, a good support group can be extremely therapeutic, if, and only if, the participant takes an active and positive role in the group and the facilitator maintains the focus and integrity of the group.
So what do I mean by positive? We are experiencing a real crisis or problem….are we supposed to pretend like everything is just fine? No! Absolutely not! To sustain a positive attitude towards our individual ordeal means to remain hopeful, to reject despair. And the very purpose of attending the support group may be to gain the strength to accomplish that. We want to survive, and thrive; and to collectively, as a group, support each other to reach that like-minded goal.
The “thing” about support groups is like finding a good tennis shoe...you have to find the right “fit” if you want your support group experience to be successful. You might have to “try on” a few pair before you find the one that works out. When searching for a support group, find a group that closely aligns with your needs and your specific goals. Some groups have a more defined agenda, while others have an open style. What is your personality best suited towards? What would be your preference?
The best groups are well organized regardless of the actual structure of the meeting, and promote an empowering environment. I can’t emphasize this enough….a well-trained facilitator is essential to the success of the support group. The facilitator can redirect a potentially negative or disastrous conversation from spiraling out of control and bringing the entire group into a funk. We are there to support and build each other UP, not bring each other further down. Yet, we need to be able to vent and share our struggles and frustrations. The facilitator can provide a safe and productive environment for this exchange and bring about the most beneficial results for everyone. The forum can be a positive experience to share information, resources, problem-solve, gain acceptance and understanding, or sometimes just vent frustrations. Additionally, understand that support groups have a personality unto themselves. If you don’t “click” with the first group you visit, don’t give up. Try another group. When you can walk out of your meeting with a renewed sense of strength and encouragement to tackle yet another day, you have found your running shoe.
Giving More Support To Support Group Leaders, from the Wall Street Journal, explores the value of groups and importance of well-trained facilitators. If you're a group facilitator, the article offers quick tips to deal with disruptive behaviors that distract from the meeting's effectiveness.
Contributed by Deanna Orf. She is the mother of a son with BiPolar, Aspergers and ADHD.