Support groups are groups of people who come together to provide encouragement, sharing experiences and feelings, listening to other’s stories and offering practical information for living with and managing a specific condition or situation. Support groups can be in-person, by telephone or online. Often, these types of groups are lead and run by non-professionals. Some may choose to use an informal, conversational type setting while others may offer more educational information, enlisting guest speakers or other professionals to provide relevant information.
Therapy groups, such as those lead by a cognitive behavioral therapist, usually consist of a medical professional leading the group and participants who are all working to learn to manage a specific condition, for example social anxiety or panic attacks.
For those with anxiety, joining a support group can offer a safe, supportive environment where they feel understood and accepted. It can become an integral part of their overall treatment plan. However, feelings of satisfaction from belonging to a support group are directly linked to how much you participate. Some people with anxiety may be reluctant to share personal information or speak in front of the group. Their fears may stop them from looking for or joining a support group. For some, online support groups are more practical, they can remain anonymous, don’t have to leave their homes and can join in discussions more freely.
What to Look for in a Support Group
Every support group is different. The dynamics of the group are based on both the leaders and the participants. In order for you to receive the most benefit from a support group, either in-person or online, you need to feel comfortable and accepted. The following are some things you can look for before joining a support group:
- You should feel welcome and secure
- There should be a confidentiality rule for the group, no one shares information discussed within the group with anyone outside of the group and your personal information should be kept safe. The confidentiality guidelines should be written down and signed by all members.
- Leaders of the group should encourage participants to be respectful of each other at all times.
- Leaders should encourage all members to participate but should not demean those that do not feel comfortable speaking in front of the group.
- The discussions in the group should focus on offering emotional support and sharing ideas for practical coping strategies
- Leaders and members should encourage one another to both give and receive help from one another
- The group should be open to anyone sharing the common condition or situation and should not discriminate against any group of people
- Meetings should be held on a regular basis and all members should be aware of when the next meeting will be.
- Groups should be run by group members (unless it is a therapy group) but have an organizational structure, for example there should be clear leaders to mediate any disagreements and set rules and guidelines.
- Encourage members to develop social networks both inside and outside of the group meetings
Many support groups will invite guest speakers to give their members additional information about the specific condition. For example, a support group for panic disorder may invite a cognitive behavioral therapist to come and talk about the benefits of CBT, a panic disorder support group may invite someone who specializes in relaxation techniques. This can be done for both in-person and online support groups. You may want to ask the leaders how often guest speakers are invited to group meetings.
If you are looking for an online support group , you will want to check the recent activity. Do the posts sound positive and supportive? Is the group active? Are there a variety of people posting questions and comments?
Where to Find Anxiety Support Groups
If you are looking for a local anxiety support group:
- Anxiety Disorders Association of America Support Group Directory (These groups are independent of ADAA)
- Social Anxiety Support Groups
- Anxiety Panic Attack Resource Site Support Group Directory
- Google Directory: Anxiety Support Groups
If you are looking for a Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Group:
Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.