“In helping others, we shall help ourselves, for whatever good we
give out completes the circle and comes back to us.” Flora
According to Webster’s dictionary, the word “support” means to give
courage or faith to; help, comfort; to carry the weight of; to give
approval to, be in favor of or uphold. All of these words describe
the framework around which support groups are built. They offer a
place for caregivers and families to learn together, deal with
feelings of frustration, sadness or isolation, and “link arms” with
others that have a mutual understanding. Support groups can also
validate a caregiver’s identity and give them permission to care for
themselves throughout the caregiving journey.
A caregiver support group provides information about helpful
resources as well as generates camaraderie. Seasoned caregivers can
share their collective wisdom and help those who are less
experienced to contend with the difficult aspects of caregiving.
Finding home care services, pre-planning legal affairs, applying
for financial help, or preparing to move a loved one into a care
facility can all be daunting events, yet group members can help each
other to take these steps.
There’s another important benefit that a support group can provide.
People facing a similar experience need to find hope for the future,
laugh about the “humorous” aspects of their lives, enjoy social
activities and have fun together! What better group of people to
connect with than those who walk in the same shoes?
Why Join A Support Group?
The advantages of joining a support group are limitless. Some of the
best reasons to join include:
Sharing common experiences and learning coping strategies
Exploring and sharing solutions to problems
Finding emotional outlets and receiving support from peers
Forming new friendships and discovering a sense of community
Developing new skills through education
Helping others while still helping yourself
Finding a Local Group
Acknowledging the need for support and then locating a group are the
first steps in becoming involved. Hospitals, rehabilitation centers,
churches, nursing homes, and local chapters of disease-specific
programs such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, MS or
cancer often sponsor support groups. These groups may be advertised
through the local papers, on the radio, at clinics, on community
bulletin boards or through the local social service or Area Agency
on Aging programs. Meetings may be scheduled on a bi-weekly or
monthly basis, during daytime or evening hours. Since caregiving
can fully consume one’s daily schedule and limit participation, many
programs may offer on-site or in-home respite care for the care
recipient to allow caregivers the freedom to attend a group.
Types of Groups
Support groups focus on a myriad of needs and topics across the
nation. These include caregiver support, living with acute and
chronic diseases, grief and loss, self-help, mental health,
parenting, and many more. Yet, all groups have one thing in common;
they address the emotional, physical and often spiritual aspects of
a disease process or life experience and members uphold each other
through a common bond.
Groups may feature formal speakers, focus on open discussions or
even sponsor social opportunities, recreational activities, and
fundraisers. Most groups are open to the public and participants are
free to join at any time, while others may offer an education and
support series for a period of six to 12 weeks.
A medical professional, social worker, psychologist or even a former
caregiver usually facilitates support and education groups. A
trained and effective facilitator should be empathetic, keep the
communication flowing, address personal needs, have knowledge of
resources and balance the discussions between those members who may
tend to monopolize the group and those who are less assertive.
Successful support groups appear to thrive if they use the following
Label the group a “coffee chat” or “breakfast club” if the word
“support” does not draw attendance.
Attentively listen, show respect for each other and uphold the
importance of confidentiality.
Involve members in leadership and group direction to ensure that
members “own” the group.
Embrace new members and maintain present ones through a mentor
Offer a combination of sharing and growth opportunities through
open discussions and educational speakers.
Strive for a positive and comfortable atmosphere that allows for
open sharing where people can feel accepted and needed.
In this day and age there are numerous options available that go
beyond the scope of the traditional group meeting. The biggest
growth is in the area of technology through online computer support.
If you’ve ever been interested in joining a caregiver support group,
but find it difficult to personally attend a meeting, online groups
may be the answer.
The Internet offers many opportunities for individuals to “meet”
online, problem-solve, share information and experiences and
ultimately receive support. Online groups offer several formats such
as discussion forums, message boards, chat rooms, and email
discussion groups (called “listservs”). Some Web sites offer groups
that are staffed by trained professionals, while others are run by
caregivers, family members or patients themselves. Online support
groups can be accessed, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This is
a plus for caregivers and the like who can’t find quiet time until
the late hours of the night.
Generally, online participation is free and can be accessed through
any computer system, although registration may be a prerequisite to
joining an online group. Be sure to read each site’s guidelines for
participation and their privacy policies, learn how to enroll or
un-enroll, and identify who sponsors the group.
Caregivers and others report that they prefer the flexibility,
convenience, anonymity and value of connecting with and hearing from
a large, diverse group of people online. They can find a community
of support right at their fingertips from peers and professionals
across the nation and even throughout the world.
Another invaluable feature of the computer age is the wealth of
knowledge that can be accessed online. Useful resources,
newsletters, connections to disease-specific sites, medical and
research updates and self-care tips are just a few examples of
additional wisdom available on the internet.
Attending a Group Together
Chronic conditions become family conditions and what affects one
will in some way affect others in the family system. For this
reason, many settings encourage family participation to gain
information and support. Some support groups, such as those for
Parkinson’s disease, MS and cancer, especially encourage caregivers
or “care partners” to attend meetings along with their loved one who
is living with a disability or chronic illness. Learning together
and receiving support together keeps people focused and helps to
equalize the disease experience for all who are involved. This
mutual encounter offers immeasurable benefits to both parties and
creates a solidarity that can carry couples and families through the
peaks and valleys of a health condition.
Caregiving is like a kaleidoscope that continually changes
dimensions with each turn. Throughout this uncertain journey,
receiving support from others may be the one constant factor that
keeps you on track. Whether you attend a group alone or with your
loved one or prefer to find support online, choosing a support group
that feels right for you is the most important
Search for support groups available online or try these suggested
sites for Internet support:
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