All my spoons are in all the right places, if you know what I'm talkin' about...
People seek out support groups for many reasons and during many different occasions. We may be seeking information, validation, assistance, emotional support, a sense of comradery or belonging, or simply a venue in which to vent without repercussion. All these reasons are valid and even necessary for most people at some time or another. Extreme circumstances can make the need even stronger whether it’s short term (suffering a loss or making a lifestyle change) or long term (battling a physical addiction or lasting illness).
Sometimes the support group is not official, and is more loosely defined. People obtain that feeling of belonging from things like churches, or clubs and organizations. A special interest awareness or political group may not exist for the purpose of support, but that aspect may come in a package.
As our world evolves and our technology advances, more types of support groups have become an option and the internet has joined the ranks in rapidly growing numbers. Specifically, the realm of group support is now open to individuals with disabilities, illnesses, who would normally not have access to support, and with issues that are socially taboo or embarrassing.
Studies are increasingly finding that the mode of internet support groups via chat, forum, blog or otherwise are incredibly effective for those who use them. They allow for an exchange of information and a sense of empowerment that was previously unavailable to some and is predicted to help reduce the staggering rate of suicide and depression in at-risk populations (disabled, atheist, or LGBT youth in the US, for example).
So what other types of support groups are out there?
The one most are probably familiar with is the ever popular 12-Step format group for addictions. These are the most widely accepted, while remaining the most controversial in terms of results and effectiveness. Alcoholics Anonymous, possibly the most recognized of the programs, is believed to have less than a 5% success rate and may even drive non-religious persons back into the arms of their addiction. Critics also wonder if the model is designed as a conversion system (some even suggest the word “cult” is appropriate), rather than rehabilitation. In very recent years, American courts are slowly dropping the mandatory AA attendance (due to a conflict between the separation of church and state and right to religious freedom) and instead offering options for rehabilitation to drug-related offenders. An amalgam of the many suspicions and critiques can be found here, with a list of citations throughout. Make your own call, it’s still a highly debated subject.
Another widely used support group is the form of Half-way Houses or transition groups. This model of support is meant for individuals leaving either hospitalization, rehab, or prison and is designed to help transition them from a 24 hour institution back into society gently and without shock. Research is still ongoing and debated in regards to just how effective this process is, but it seems as though high-risk individuals benefit most from the transition. As far as we have come now, the houses only have a 5% success rate (success meaning that the offenders do not repeat their crimes once out in the world), but this statistic does not take into account that houses that separate high-risk and low-risk offenders have better rates of success.
Support groups targeted towards trauma and survival are widely accepted and viewed as almost necessary for those who fit the category. Statistics for success are difficult to measure because the realm of trauma and survival are so varied and the types of groups used are even more so. People who might fit into the category would be rape or abuse victims (both as children or adults), war veterans or others who have PTSD, those who have suffered a recent loss (especially those who may have witnessed the death of a loved one), those who have “beaten” or survived a potentially deadly illness, or those who have survived a potentially deadly accident or disaster.
Then there are support groups targeted towards the terminally or chronically ill. It’s difficult to measure the “success” of these groups because we all might have varied opinions of what success would mean in these cases. Many argue that the support needed for these individuals has no real goal or “end point” and is needed throughout the persons life. It is with this demographic that the online method of support is growing in popularity. This may be because of several reasons, the most obvious of which is that the internet crosses the barrier of physical limitations and allows one to socialize and build relationships without needing to leave the home or hospital bed.
The last major form of support group (intended for the purpose, at least) would be groups designed for the affected, not the afflicted. The needs of individuals who’s loved ones suffer are often over-looked and downplayed. But the truth is undeniable, that these people often need support, information, empathy, and venting just as much as the afflicted themselves. If you are the boyfriend, girlfriend, spouse, relative, or friend of a person who’s life is endangered, hindered, or under extreme trauma (experiencing a rape or assault, for instance), you may want to appear strong and supportive toward this important individual in your life. This is good, and your support in these cases is invaluable beyond words, but forgetting your own need for support can backfire and cause a trauma of your own.
As with anything, statistics mean very little to an individual. Regardless of the success or failure of any of the above styles of support, only you can determine what method will work for you in any given situation. Some may not desire any group support at all, some may shudder at the idea of gaining the support of strangers, it’s completely up to you.