Support group

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Template:Mind-body interventionsIn a support group, members provide each other with various types of nonprofessional, nonmaterial help for a particular shared burdensome characteristic. The help may take the form of providing relevant information, relating personal experiences, listening to others' experiences, providing sympathetic understanding and establishing social networks. A support group may also provide ancillary support, such as serving as a voice for the public or engaging in advocacy.

Maintaining contact

Support groups maintain interpersonal contact among their members in a variety of ways. Most groups have traditionally met in person in group sizes that allowed conversational interaction. Support groups also maintain contact through printed newsletters, telephone chains, internet forums, and mailing lists. Some support groups are exclusively online.

Membership in some support groups is formally controlled, with admission requirements and membership fees. Other groups are "open" and allow anyone to drop in at an advertised meeting, for example, or to participate in an online forum.

Self-help or Professionally run

A self-help support group is fully organized and managed by its members, usually volunteers. Alcoholics Anonymous and other twelve-step programs, typically facilitated by members, are one major type of self-help groups, that are also sometimes referred to as fellowships, peer support groups, mutual help groups, or mutual aid self-help groups.

Professionally run support groups are facilitated by a professional who does not share the problem of the members,[1] such as a social worker, a psychologist, or a clergyperson. The facilitator controls discussions and provides other managerial service. Such professionally run groups are more often found in institutional settings, including hospitals, drug-treatment centers and correctional facilities. These types of support group may run for a limited time, and an attendance fee is sometimes charged.[1]

On-line support groups

Since at least 1982, the Internet has provided a new venue for support groups. Diverse remote networking formats have allowed the development of both synchronous groups, where individuals can exchange messages in real time, and asynchronous groups, where members who are not connected to a network at the same time can read and exchange messages. E-mail, Usenet and Internet bulletin boards have become popular methods of communication for self-help groups and among facilitated support groups.

Support groups have long offered companionship and information for people coping with diseases or disabilities, but on-line situationally oriented groups have expanded to offer support for people facing various life circumstances, especially those involving personal and cultural relationships. In 2006, Yahoo! listed more than 30,000 support groups focusing on a wide range of health-related topics within its hosted domains, though research suggests only several thousand of those groups may currently be active. The wide range of support groups now active on the Internet can make offer individuals support for an equally wide range of life circumstances. However, a researcher from the University College London says the lack of qualitative directories, and the fact that many support groups are not listed by search engines can make finding an appropriate group difficult. [1]

Some people, however, feel that the internet still provides a wide range of benefits to self-help seekers through services other than Yahoo! Groups. Many self help groups can be found on message board services similar to BBSes which are not governed by any search engine and so may simply be harder to find.

The message boards are picked up by the search engines like Google, Yahoo and Alta Vista, just like any website. Especially if the board owner submit the board to the search engines. But after a while, topics, keywords and forums will be picked up anyway. Besides, both Google and Yahoo have directories with lists of support groups for different diseases. The Open Directory Project (ODP), also known as Dmoz, has directories with lists of support groups. The volunteer editors adds support groups to the lists even when the forums are not submitted. Google’s directory is using the ODP directory. It is not difficult to find an online support group, but it is hard to find a good one.

Marc D. Feldman, MD, of the University of Alabama at Birmingham's Center for Psychiatric Medicine, has warned about sympathy-seekers that invade Internet support groups. He calls it Munchausen by Internet. In these disorders, people cook up or induce fictitious illnesses in themselves or others in an effort to gain sympathy. And there's no doubt these storytellers can have an enormous impact on Internet support groups. Among other things, Feldman says, they can:

  • Create a division between those who believe the tale and those who don't
  • Cause some to leave the group
  • Temporarily distract the group from its mission by forcing it to focus on the poser "Overwhelmingly, these support groups offer a tremendous benefit to people," he says. "[But,] as in other areas of our lives, we have to be informed."

Other categories

In the case of a disease, an identity or a pre-disposition, for example, a support group will provide information, act as a clearing-house for experiences, and serve as a public relations voice for sufferers, other members, and their families. Compare Mental Health Stigma, depression, mood disorders, Mensa International and gay pride, for example.

In the case of alleged ex-cult members or personal addictions, on the other hand, a support group may veer more towards helping those involved to overcome or move "beyond" their condition/experience.


Formal support groups may appear as a modern phenomenon, but they supplement traditional fraternal organizations such as Freemasonry in some respects, and may build on certain supportive functions (formerly) carried out in (extended) families.

Support groups in the media

  • The novel and movie Fight Club present a wry analysis of support groups and their function.
  • In the Pixar film Finding Nemo, the two main characters encounter three different sharks that form a self-help support group to help each other swear off fish as food and change their image.

External links

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 APA Dictionary of Psychology, 1st ed., Gary R. VandenBos, ed., Washington: American Psychological Association, 2007.