The Power of Support Groups
A support group is a group of people with common experiences and concerns who provide emotional and moral support for each other.
Many people avoid support groups due to common misconceptions: they don’t want to join a “pity party,” feel reluctant to share personal information, and fear a support group will only exacerbate their depression and anxiety. Unfortunately, these misconceptions prevent many from taking advantage of a powerful source of connection, information, and coping strategies. A well-run support group brings together members who share a common bond of understanding. The profound effect of this interaction can empower people to deal more successfully with the physical, emotional and mental changes that occur with PD. Consistently attending a support group can improve the quality of life for participants.
Simply knowing you are not alone can be helpful
Those who attend support groups on a regular basis develop camaraderie with fellow group members; many feel relief when meeting with others who understand their situation. Support group members have a chance to share their experiences in an open atmosphere that offers not only empathy and understanding, but provides alternative problem solving ideas as well.
Support groups offer a safe place to:
- Provide each other with emotional and practical support
- Exchange information
- Receive up to date information from PD Professionals
- Establish Social Networks and Community
What makes a support group ‘good’?
Although the components of a “good” support group differ from person to person, a well functioning group should include a regular meeting schedule, informational flyers, strong and reliable leadership, information about scientific advances and community resources.
Support Group Structure
Structure and emphasis of support groups vary widely and should be determined by the individual group participants. Most groups incorporate education by inviting PD professionals and other community specialists. Some groups balance this component with sessions for collaborative support or separating groups into patient/partner sessions. Many groups have social outings/sessions on a regular basis. Advocacy and fund raising can also be a part of group structure.
Choosing a support group is a very personal decision, and one size definitively does not fit all. Every group has pros and cons, and it’s important to find a group that makes you feel comfortable. Attending a group for a few sessions should give you all the information you need to make an informed choice; if a support group does not feel right, try another and don’t give up until you find the right fit.
For more information
We are very fortunate to have many groups to choose from in this area; there are general PD support groups as well as specialized groups for PD partners and Adult Children of a Parent with PD. There are Early Onset groups. The right support group can truly be a valuable addition to your wellness strategy. To find the right support group in the northwestern part of the US, visit the APDA www.waparkinsons.org/support_groups and NWPF www.nwpf.org/support websites. For information about support groups in other areas log onto www.parkinson.org or www.apdaparkinson.org. These websites are also helpful for information on support group formation.
Ask the following questions to help with your selection:
- What do I hope to gain from attending a support group?
- Does the group have an educational component such as PD professional speakers on a regular basis?
- Is the facilitator a professional or is it a peer run group?
- Is the facilitator knowledgeable about group dynamics?
- Does the group offer the opportunity to share concerns and problem solve?Does the group encourage family members to attend?
Author: Carin, Mack, MSW, geriatric health consultant and support group facilitator, firstname.lastname@example.org