Peer support is of great benefit as you can connect with those who understand what you are going through. The benefits of peer support are numerous including:
- Reduced feelings of isolation both emotional and physical.
- Reduction in stress and anxiety
- Provides a place to talk honestly.
- Practical information on your condition
- Being able to meet with people who have been through your situation and can provide advice.
- Learning coping skills
- Confidentiality to talk about issues that your family may be uncomfortable with
- Online support groups are good if you are in an isolated area or no suitable support groups exist in your area
- The anonymous nature of online communities relieves the embarrassment of discussing some issues
- Online groups allow participation at any time of the day.
Choosing your support group
There are many choices when it comes to support groups and choosing one is really a matter of personal preference. Most support groups are based on a specific condition such as amputation or chronic pain. Some are designed for specific ages or cultural groups and some allow family members to participate. Groups may focus on education or they may be about emotions. Some support groups have membership fees to cover costs.
Groups may be formally structured with guest speakers, newsletters, events, fundraising and the like. These groups often have appointed mediators who maintain discussions. Some groups provide work books and self-help tasks, however a group is not therapy: only a trained professional can provide that resource.
Informal groups are often organised by members and even though the group is informal they may still have a structure with a president, treasurer etc or be a ‘tea and chat’ type group.
Remember that medical advice from members of any support group should be discussed with your doctor as it may not be useful advice for your situation.
Not all support groups are created equally or suit all people; some are disorganised, ‘cliquey’ or subscribe to ideologies that you may object to such as rejecting medical treatment. Groups can change over time and you could find that the group does not help you any more even though it is well organised and moderated. You may reach a point in your rehabilitation where the group no longer suits your needs.
If you find that a support group is not for you the best option is to leave and find another group. A support group should be (as its name implies) supportive. If you find yourself feeling drained, deciding to not speak to avoid conflicts or dreading going to a meeting it is an indication that the group is not being organised well or poorly moderated. Differences of opinion when treated with respect can be beneficial by broadening your perspectives or giving you fresh insight. When different voices are squashed the group is of little use.
Warning signs of a poorly run group include:
- Members complain constantly or try to one up each other
- You cannot speak your mind as different opinions are shot down
- The interests of a small number of members are served above the majority
- Individuals dominate meetings or are particularly confrontational
- Products are pushed on you
- Discussions are poorly moderated, irrelevant, meander pointlessly or turn into arguments
- Internet groups may be infiltrated by liars or conartists
- The anonymity of the internet can make some people behave disgracefully
One way to evaluate a group is to ask yourself: Do I feel better after I go to a meeting or worse? If you feel better keep going; if you feel worse find another group.