Support groups provide an opportunity to meet other people who share similar experiences. Most often groups provide support and advice on how to deal with common problems. The goal of a support group is to create a warm, non-judgmental atmosphere where members can talk about life’s challenges without embarrassment as well as give support and encouragement to each other. A support group is a place for people to come together to share coping strategies, discuss feelings, and make new friends.
What do support groups do?
Although support groups may often meet for different reasons, Alzheimer’s disease or widowhood for example, most groups have a similar format. Most often, members discuss problems in the group and provide support and advice to each other. However, members of support groups are never forced to speak or share their personal concerns unless they feel comfortable doing so. In addition to sharing, some groups choose to have educational activities by inviting guest speakers who talk about specific issues.
Where can I find a support group?
Contact your local Area Agency on Aging, Department of Jobs and Family Services, local hospitals and churches, or other community social service agencies that work with seniors, families, or children. Also, your local newspaper will likely have a section listing support groups in your area.
How do I start a support group?
There are a number of steps to take when starting a support group. The following are some pointers on starting a support group obtained from the AARP Grandparent Information Center.
How to Get Started
- Gather information about other support groups. Attend a meeting if possible to watch, ask questions, and borrow ideas.
- Determine the best time of day to hold meetings.
- Find a convenient and safe place for a 1- to 2-hour meeting, such as someone’s house, church or synagogue, library, community center, or YMCA/YWCA. The place to meet should be accessible to as many people as possible.
- Find other people who are experiencing similar problems and invite them to attend. Ask for referrals from social workers, churches, local officials, and community agencies. Word-of-mouth is also an excellent means of finding potential members.
- Promote the meeting through newspapers, flyers, posters, local television, or radio.
What Should Happen at the First Meeting
- When you have a list of potential members, you should contact them to confirm the meeting time and place.
- Keep the first meeting simple and start small; 2 to 3 people at first is fine.
- Allow 1–2 hours for this meeting and then let the group decide the time, length, and place of future meetings.
- Introduce yourself and share your story; invite others to share their stories, but do not force anyone to talk before they feel comfortable. All information should be kept confidential within the group.
- Collect contact information from all of those who attend.
- Ask for volunteers to help plan and run future meetings. Assign specific roles.
- Provide refreshments, if desired.
What Else Should be Discussed?
- Decide the purpose of your support group and choose a name.
- Decide what activities and speakers you would like to have.
- Determine who is eligible to attend and if transportation assistance is necessary.
- Plan your meeting schedule—at least monthly is recommended.
- Decide how to handle group expenses. How will refreshments be provided? Will dues be necessary?
- Exchange telephone numbers or set up a telephone tree for emergencies or for personal support.
- Remember to celebrate the triumphs of members as well as the challenges.