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Support groups: what are they and what are they effective for?

Support groups: what are they and what are they effective for?

December 3, 2022

We have all heard about someone who attends a support group, or we have read or seen in a novel, series or film.

A person with cancer, an alcoholic or a rape victim are some of the people who come to these types of groups. But... What is a support group? What exactly do they serve?

  • Related article: "Types of psychological therapies"

The support group: what are we facing?

A support group is understood as that group of people who meet periodically to help them cope with a problem that causes alterations in their daily life through the exchange of experiences. This problem is common for all members of the group.


Is about a strategy aimed at cooperation and support between people They live with the same problem, so that each member can improve their competence when it comes to adapting to the problem in question or its consequences and face possible future complications. In addition, it allows the expression of doubts, fears and emotions derived from his experience in a cozy environment and where he will meet other subjects who have gone through the same and will understand each other.

In the support groups, interaction and cooperation are favored , as well as empowering the assumption of responsibilities for themselves in each of the members. All members of the group have equal importance and the same right to express themselves, there being no hierarchy between them. The groups are usually mediated by a professional, who directs the session and acts as moderator and is dedicated to all members can express themselves freely and equally.


Support groups do not have to have a specific structure, although they tend to be of two specific types. On the one hand they can be closed groups, in which a certain number of subjects are registered and once started, new people can not be admitted . This forces people to commit to attend a specific number of sessions. Another type of groups are open, in which participation is free and can attend or stop doing whoever wants and when you want, can incorporate new subjects to the group.

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Typical functions and advantages of support groups

The support groups have a wide variety of possible applications and functions, among which the following stand out.

1. It allows to acquire information and new perspectives

In the support groups a large amount of information is shared, which is reflected by people with different ways of interpreting both the experience and life in general. Likewise, the moderator or the professional in charge of the group can propose different topics or make the discussion move towards specific aspects that can help both to express themselves and to improve the situation of each subject.


In short, the support groups allow their components to acquire information that they did not have , as well as to observe and contrast the different ways of thinking and acting with respect to a theme. It can even serve to incorporate new behaviors, coping strategies and life activities that have been successful in other people.

2. It favors the coping of the problem and the acquisition of strategies

Through support groups, people who participate in them can learn new ways to cope with their difficulties, being able to generate new coping strategies both when learning them from others and when working them together.

3. Normalizes the situation and the experiences derived from it

Living certain situations can be a traumatic experience. In addition to this, it is common that people do not know how to react or if what they experience as a result of the problem in question or what they experienced at the time is normal. You may even feel that it is something reprehensible and self-blaming, for example, not being able to trust certain people or even go out.

Meeting other people with similar experiences It can be very reassuring, because it allows us to see that our own reactions are normal in certain situations and that the experiences and sensations that we have have been lived and felt by others.

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4. Emotional support: enhances the feeling of being understood

The support group supposes to be able to share aspects of one's own life that, before other subjects, they do not usually express themselves or they are not easily understood by someone who has not gone through the experience even though said person wants to offer help. The individual will be able to feel understood more easily before people with the same problem.

5. Encourages emotional expression

Having the presence of people in situations similar to their own causes the person to feel freer and can let go and share emotions and thoughts, unlocking aspects that are hidden from others.

6. Allows to establish ties and break the isolation

It is common for people who come to these groups to isolate themselves in their daily lives. Assistance to support groups allows people with a specific problem to be able to get to know others with similar experiences and start generating linkages , causing an opening towards the outside that by itself turns out to be therapeutic.

Situations and disorders in which they can be useful

Support groups can arise due to a large number of problems. These support groups can deal with aspects and chronic events, such as some diseases, or specific such as a divorce or a transplant.

Support groups for people with diseases

There are several support groups related to the existence of problems of medical origin, whether this is punctual or chronic. Examples of these are support groups for cancer patients of different types, as well as for diabetics, asthmatics, seropositive patients (HIV-AIDS).

For people with previous addictions

One of the most popular types of support groups. There are many support groups for people who have stopped using alcohol, cocaine, heroin or other substances and who are or have already gone through a period of abstinence.

For victims of traumatic events

There are support groups dedicated to bringing together and trying to help people who have suffered different traumatic events. People who have been raped or sexually abused at some time in their lives, kidnapped, victims of war, soldiers who have participated in armed conflicts, people who have survived a disease such as cancer or who have become widowed are some of the examples .

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For people at risk of social exclusion

Social exclusion is an element to keep in mind and that in many cases it causes deep suffering to the people who suffer it. Among them you can find support groups for ex-convicts, drug addicts, prostitutes, former indigents, affected by different diseases and socially rejected minorities.

For family members

There are support groups for relatives of people with some of the problems mentioned above. Do not forget that the environment of the subjects also suffers greatly and requires psychological and social support, being very useful meet other families who are going through the same . For example in families of people with dementia, disability, mental disorders or degenerative or chronic diseases.


Social Work & Support Groups (December 2022).


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