The Value of Self-Help and Support Groups

I'm a firm believer in the value of self-help groups as an excellent source of support, advice, strength and hope for almost any problem that may be bothering you.  The success of Alcoholics Anonymous in the 1930's has resulted in the formation of many other types of support groups, including thousands of meetings in the Atlanta area.

Gaining experience, strength and hope from other people who are in a similar situation is a wonderfully effective way to reduce shame, gain self-acceptance and enhance motivation for continued growth.  Nobody likes to feel they are the only one with a problem.  Finding other people with similar struggles who are at various stages of their own recovery journey provides a sense of shared understanding that has a value beyond measure.

Self-help groups offer many types of support.  They provide an accepting culture where people are allowed to say anything they feel without fear of being judged or criticized.  Being exposed to this attitude of acceptance on a regular basis can have a profoundly therapeutic effect.  One characteristic of the healthiest meetings is a consistent focus on "living in the solution instead of the problem", so rather than being a room full of glum complainers these best groups are full of useful affirmations and guidance for living a better life.

Relationships among attenders can extend beyond the group to provide invaluable support in times of need.  Many people who get to know each other in self-help groups extend themselves to each other outside of the meeting.  Lunches, talks over coffee, and telephone calls during hard times carry the usefulness of recovery concepts into the furthest regions of a person's life.

Most 12-step support groups have some characteristics in common despite their many differences.  There is generally no cost to attend other than a small voluntary donation.  People know each other only by first name to maintain the emotional safety of anonymity.  Speakers describe their own individual experience, focusing on that they find helpful, rather than advising or directing others what to do.  There is often the opportunity (but not a requirement) to develop a mentoring relationship with a "sponsor", who is an experienced person able to provide a newcomer with individualized attention and guidance.

Since many different kinds of opinions are expressed in support groups, not everything you hear may seem relevant at the moment.  As an example, most 12-step groups often include discussion of a spiritual component to life which works well for some people but not for others.  A valuable expression I recommend in this situation is to "take what you need and leave the rest."  Like cafeteria-style dining, many choices are available, but not all of them have to go on your plate your first time down the line, if ever.

It's easy to feel intimidated going into a support group for the first time.  My suggestion is to remember that everyone there at one time was in the same position of being new to the process.  Some of the friendliest and healthiest people you'll ever find attend support groups regularly, and they want you to feel good about being there.  Many consider the newest attender to be the most important person in the room.  It may be hard to imagine how it can true, but other people experience a benefit by your very presence.

Where is the role of the therapist in all this?  Many people in support groups also engage in some form of individual counseling to address issues that are more effectively addressed this way than in an open group.   It's important to choose a counselor who understands and supports the concepts of self-help efforts.  I've had much experience with the value of using self-help groups to advance growth and healing, and I welcome hearing from you to address any thoughts or questions you may have.

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I hope you will take a little time to read some of my many other articles to educate, encourage and inspire you along your journey to a life you richly deserve.  If I can provide more personal assistance to you, either in person, by phone or via Skype, please don't hesitate to contact me.