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Support Groups: A Simple Guide

By , 3:05 pm on

Feeling understood is the most basic of human needs… it almost feels as critical as the need for air.

–D. Jani, a life coach.


When a family caregiver tells me they have a loved one suffering from a chronic illness or dementia, I encourage talking with others in the same situation.  No matter how strong we are, or how solid our relationships with others, it is helpful to talk with people who deeply understand the issues we’re facing.
This simple guide explains support groups and how to find the right one.

Support Group:

Group of people who gather to talk about a certain thing– physical condition, mental problem, or personal issue. Members have a deep knowledge of the topic and exchange information, either in person or on-line.  May have a moderator, or leadership may rotate among members. May be called an “Education Group.”

Attendees Seek:

  • Communication at a higher level of understanding, specific education on issues relating to a physical or mental condition, such as Parkinson’s Disease or depression/anxiety issues
  • People who are honest and caring about the situation
  • Acceptance and lack of judgement
  • Empathy among group members
  • Place of safety and trust
  • Search your issue on-line; interest groups and related associations often have connections to local support groups (e.g. “Parkinson’s Disease support group” search pulls up a link to a list of all the support groups in Nebraska and indicates contact information for leaders)
  • Ask physicians and clergy for recommendation
  • Consider your own needs and wants (a few examples below)

Find a Group That Fits:

  • Time of day, day of week
  • People at the same stage (e.g. Early On-Set Dementia)
  • Couples, singles, male or female only
  • Format (e.g. on-line or in-person? an education group with speakers or a small social group that meets to for lunch?
  • Contact the leader and ask some questions before attending:
    • Where it meets, for how long and how often?
    • How long has it been going on? Accepting new members?
    • Format? (social, educational, lecture, etc.)
    • Who moderates or facilitates? Could be an outsider, could be a person with the issue or condition (best self-moderated groups have rotating leaders among members)
    • What are terms of confidentiality or anonymity? (as in an AA group)
  • Visit the group; does it feel right? Do you feel better when you attend or worse?

When No Group Fits, Start One:


Sources and Additional Resources:

Gerald Goodman, PhD, professor emeritus of Psychology, UCLA (via WebMD)

Mayo Clinic:

On-line support groups (examples):

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