I routinely recommend support groups to people who are dealing with mental illness or addiction, often in addition to traditional therapy sessions and medications. Here are nine potential benefits from participation in support groups:
1) Realizing you are not alone
It’s interesting to hear people describe their first support group meeting. They will often say, “You know, until I went to the group I thought I was the only person in the world with my problem. I was so surprised to find that everyone in the group had the same issues as me.” This realization usually brings about a feeling of relief, by gaining the understanding for perhaps the very first time in their life that others have similar concerns and are there to help and encourage you.
2) Expressing your feelings
After you realize you aren’t alone and within a safe and supportive environment, you will begin to feel comfortable sharing your feelings and life circumstances with the group. This can be a very therapeutic and healing experience, particularly as you find that others in the group will listen nonjudgmentally and will praise you for your openness and courage.
3) Learning helpful information
Support groups offer lots of practical tips and resources for dealing with identified concerns, and members share their success stories and the strategies that helped them move forward in their recovery. Some groups focus on learning and practicing specific coping skills. Many groups will also provide recommendations for useful books and websites for additional study apart from the group meetings.
4) Improved social skills
By meeting and talking with other group members, you also have a chance to practice social skills and interact more effectively with others. Often, mental illness or addiction has contributed to withdrawal from social situations. Support groups provide a safe place to become comfortable around others once more.
5) Gaining hope
It’s very powerful when you see others in the group who are further along their road to recovery and who have made great strides toward having happier and healthier lives. These positive role models show you that recovery is in fact attainable, which brings renewed hope for the future.
6) Reducing distress
As you work through various issues and concerns in the group, it’s common that you will begin to notice a reduced level of overall distress and discomfort. This is a positive sign that progress is being made and that you are feeling better.
7) Increased self-understanding
As you learn more effective ways to cope and handle difficult situations, you gain better understanding about yourself, your needs and your own unique personality. You can also gain increased insight about the factors that have contributed to your current challenges and the strategies that seem to work best to help you move toward your goals.
8) Helping others
Just as you benefit from the group experience, you can also help other group members as you grow and make progress. Others will be affected positively by hearing about your successes and by your kind and caring demeanor. You will also notice you feel better when you are able to help someone else. Many groups will explicitly include the goal of helping others as a central component of the group’s mission.
One additional advantage of support groups is they are very affordable. In fact, many groups are free, and all will typically be cheaper than individual therapy sessions.
If you haven’t yet participated in a support group, consider giving one a try. If you’re not sure which specific groups to check out, ask your health care providers or experienced support group members for their recommendations. Commit to attending at least a few meetings, as it will take a little while to relax and feel comfortable in a new group.
Once you’ve determined the group is a good fit for you, attend regularly. Soak up information and learn effective coping strategies from other members who are doing well. When you feel the time is right, share your story, your challenges, your fears, and your successes. Support other group members with encouragement, validation and a pat on the back for making progress toward their goals.
Support groups can be very enjoyable and rewarding, and should definitely be considered as an important part of your overall recovery plan.
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