By a loose definition, a support group is a space where people come together to discuss their lived experiences. For deeply empathetic people, this space may become overwhelming and difficult to attend. Even an individual coping with their own negative experiences may find it hard to listen to others and provide support. In such cases, rather than being therapeutic, a support group becomes a burden. Many individuals attending groups could be symptomatic, lack boundaries and have poor judgment. Engaging such people with a lack of awareness of the intensity of the problem could be draining for other people as well. For a person who faces dysfunction in their daily lives, a combination of therapy and support group may work best as opposed to just attending a support group.
A concern while addressing support groups is, they might not necessarily be facilitated by mental health professionals. The individuals conducting the groups can be people who have lived through a particular experience and have created a space for others to voice similar experiences. Thus, here it may prove to be beneficial in finding a group which is led by a professional. They will be in a better position to keep the direction, moderate and provide structure to include safety. An unsupervised or non-professional may spread inaccurate information or give unsound feedback which may prove to be detrimental to those listening to them. If you are unable to find a support group facilitated by a professional, try sitting in different groups to understand how they work and if they feel comfortable for you.
Similarly, the goal and notion of a support group should also be clear from the side of the facilitator and participants. A group in most likeliness won’t be a support group if people come together to criticize or bash each other and their lives. Constant complaining or chronic negativity as a part of the group can misdirect the participants. The leader/facilitator has to be an individual who allows less criticism and more of a solution or catharsis based intervention. A support group ends with empowerment so that the participants can feel a greater sense of autonomy on their journey towards healing. It can be a containment jar for difficult emotions and rough experiences; however, one has to graduate from the group and not feel dependent on it forever.
Another essential point for support groups is establishing specific ground rules. Many participants may not adhere to this outside of the space. Take, for example, the group may agree to keep confidentiality. However, they are not ethically or legally bound as a mental health professional to protect the identity or information of the people within the group. Confidentiality may be broken in many simple ways such as a participant discussing the concerns of another with their friends or family. If one feels concerned about confidentiality, it may be in their interest to choose a support group wisely.
Support groups may also see a change of participants frequently that may invoke some anxiety among people who prefer certainty or take time to build rapport. Evidently, consistency in a group setting is essential, and the irregularity of some participants may impact the others negatively.
While support groups are lovely and provide a therapeutic space where one is seen and heard, it may not be for everyone. Each person’s healing journey and growth looks different and will be supported through different modalities. Not liking or fitting into a support group does not mean you’re demanding or different. It means you are you. Simply. Explore your options for cathartic release it may be play, music, art or group therapy. Group therapy is led by a professional and has a more regulated structure. If you find support groups failing you but still seek a more collaborative healing space, group therapy might work. Remember, once you find your niche, you’ll feel supported and grow thereon. This includes being patient with yourself and trusting your instincts where you feel safe.