Q. I’ve heard that attending a support group for a chronic health problem can be helpful, but I don’t understand why. Isn’t it just a bunch of people complaining?
Hopefully not. In a support group, members provide each other with various types of help for a particular shared, usually burdensome, issue. The help may take the form of providing and evaluating relevant information, relating personal experiences, listening to and accepting others' experiences, providing sympathetic understanding and establishing social networks.
Formal support groups may appear to be a modern phenomenon but may build on certain supportive functions formerly carried out in extended families. They also share a loose relationship with the old-fashioned quilting bee or coffee klatch where women shared the happenings of their lives and learned from one another.
Support groups maintain interpersonal contact among their members in a variety of ways. Traditionally, groups have met in person in sizes that allowed conversational interaction. Support groups also maintain contact through printed newsletters, telephone chains, Internet forums and mailing lists. Some support groups are exclusively online.
A self-help support group is fully organized and managed by its members, who are commonly volunteers and have personal experience in the subject of the group's focus. These groups may also be referred to as fellowships, peer support groups, lay organizations, mutual help groups or mutual aid self-help groups.
Professionally-operated support groups are facilitated by professionals who do not share the problem of the members, such as social workers, psychologists or members of the clergy. The facilitator controls discussions and provides other managerial services.
The Crescenta-Cañada YMCA has two support groups, one for Parkinson’s disease and one for neuropathy. They both meet monthly and have guest speakers. The Parkinson’s disease group meets on the third Friday of the month at 11 a.m. and the neuropathy group meets on the fourth Wednesday at 1 p.m. Both groups are free and open to the community. Please call me at (818) 790-0123 ext. 225 for more information.
NANCY TURNEY received a bachelor's degree in social work and a certificate in gerontology. If you have a specific question you would like answered in this column, email it to email@example.com or call Turney at the Crescenta-Cañada YMCA, (818) 790-0123, ext. 225.