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What is a Support Group?

By Amy Hunter
Updated May 17, 2024
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A support group is an organization dedicated to helping people deal with a particular problem. Support groups typically help people deal with illness, job loss, and addiction. There are also groups that help people accomplish a common goal, such as a writers' group. Support groups are typically run by volunteers, and meet in person. There are also virtual support groups, available on the Internet, but traditionally, support groups meet in small group settings.

There are several types of support groups available. The people that make up a group managed self-help support groups, are all people who suffer from the same condition, such as cancer, bereavement, or obesity. There is typically no charge to attend these sessions.

Professionally operated support groups are groups of people with a common condition that meet together under the direction of a professional trained in counseling, such as a social worker, clergy member, or psychologist. The professional will guide the conversation and keep discussion on track; however, there is ample time for the participants to speak as well. Hospitals, drug rehabilitation centers, and other institutions are the typical homes of professionally operated support groups. There is sometimes a charge for these meetings.

There are challenges associated with participating in a support group. Depending on the area and the condition, it can be difficult to find a suitable group. In cases where the condition is relatively rare, the person lives in a small community, or the condition is one that precludes easy travel, an online support group may make the best choice.

While traditional support groups have years of research to back up their value, the relative newness of online support groups means that it is not fully understood whether, or to what extent, these groups provide value to the participants. The unfortunate problem with online groups is there is no real way to verify the story of everyone who participates. This can create a scenario where people seeking attention may spend time on these support sites fabricating stories and tearing down the trust of the community. Many feel that support groups that meet in person provide the most benefits.

Finding the right support group may take a few tries. While doctors, counselors, and friends can recommend a group, ultimately, the person participating must feel comfortable in the group and with the people who are participating. It can be tempting to attend the support group that meets at the most convenient time or closest to your home, but the people who make up the support group and their attitude will play a big part in the support group experience. If you are not comfortable with the first group you attend, try another, until you find one that allows you to feel at home.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Discussion Comments

By Sandysoo — On Jul 31, 2011

I need a support group for dealing with Asperger's Syndrome.

By anon73320 — On Mar 26, 2010

How do you get into a "support group"?

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