FINDING AND USING SUPPORT GROUPS
Public perception of the value of support groups is demonstrated by the large number that have come into existence. You will find local groups in many towns and cities, however, if the groups listed for your area do not have one focused on your particular concern, check for an online group. Creating a group locally or online are additional options.
You may obtain some useful principles for starting a group by adapting AA guidelines found here:
In a group of people with similar concerns, interests, and problems, one does not feel so alone. In a group, information may be more available and more useable. The choice to use it or not is yours.
Leadership of the group may be delegated to a particular person by the sponsoring agency or shared by the members. Some training and background in how groups develop is helpful to the leader/s. For a group to be effective it needs a climate that is accepting, open, confidential, hopeful and problem solving. The group needs to be specific about the behaviors and attitudes that are expected of participants.
Here is my behavioral interpretation of 6 values adapted from Canda, Carrizosa, & Yellow Bird. 1995 in “Health Through Faith and Community” by Loretta Pyles and Holly B. Nelson-Becker, Haworth Pastoral Press, 2006, which was used rather than a signed list of rules for a recent group I attended:
Trust: Requires us to be open and honest with one another and to keep confidential information confidential inside and outside the group. In other words we don’t repeat what others say in group to other members or other people; we need to feel safe in being open and honest and the context of any discussion is important for understanding. The only possible exception is if someone threatens to harm either themselves or others.
Sincerity: Goes along with honesty and helps us be more committed to one another in the group. It helps to speak of our own experiences and not assume we know how others feel or think.
Respect: Is needed to avoid interrupting others unnecessarily and to avoid monopolizing the group time. However, sometimes, when a person is very hurt or very happy they will need more time than usual. We will not use denigrating or profane language toward anyone in the group or outside, including oneself.
Willingness to Learn: Others can help us identify our strengths and weaknesses if we let them or invite them to tell us what they see in us. Others may have suggestions for us in solving problems or for personal growth. We need to be open to others thoughts and opinions but must evaluate them for their appropriateness for one’s own situation.
Agreement to Disagree: Although trust is built on common ideas and concerns, we are not carbon copies of one another and can allow others to have their particular opinions that are different from ours and not insist that they believe or act like we prefer.
Commitment to Work through Issues: Working through our own issues and issues within the group, especially in regard to disagreements with others, is needed. However, if the issue is too heated, we may agree to defer discussion of the matter until a specific later time. While waiting, it is important not to concentrate on negative thinking or matters can become worse in your eyes and escalate the disagreement into a hotter argument.
As group participants we can gain the ability to set realistic goals for ourselves and work toward them. The ability to ask for and accept comments from others helps us gain more accurate views of ourselves than we have known previously. We learn aspects of the situations we face that may not have been obvious to us earlier. These abilities to set realistic goals and accept others views are indicators of personal health and maturity–when we also realize that we seldom can please everyone. More importantly, we must try to learn how to please ourselves and follow God’s will as we understand it in our everyday activities.
The ability of groups to be confrontive while also being supportive is helpful to our personal growth. Some groups are more confrontive in nature, and some are more supportive. The individuals in the group and their goals as well as the leader’s style and goals affect the nature of the group. Therefore, groups change over time and with the individuals who participate.
Consequently, we cannot judge a group fairly by only one visit. Nevertheless, the first visit is very important in setting our expectations of the group and may either “hook” or repel us.
Some people cannot find help in a group due to a kind of competitiveness that encourages illness instead of wellness. If you need attention and compete for it, you might not be helped and could even get worse in a support group. Sometimes the group is “too kind,” the members not wanting to hurt anyone’s feelings and not knowing how to be honest in a gentle way. In these ways, and probably others, a group may actually promote illness.
So do think about your group and how you can improve your functioning in it and how the group can improve its functioning. The group is constantly changing in some way, even when on the surface things seem to be going smoothly.
You have my best wishes in finding or “founding” and developing a group that meets some of your needs and desires.