People tend to have strong opinions about groups:
love ’em or hate ’em.
People tend to have even stronger opinions about support groups, and it’s generally on the hate ’em side.
“What’s the problem?”, I ask my clients.
- I’m not a “sharing” kind of person.
- I don’t want others knowing my business.
- Support groups are boring and/or a waste of my time.
- I already know what they are going to say.
- People who need to attend support groups are losers. I can handle this myself.
Got that out of your system? Feel better now? Okay, good. Keep reading.
First, support groups are not the same as group therapy. Group therapy is a formal type of mental health treatment that brings together people with similar conditions and is led by a trained mental health clinician. Support groups are often led by lay people, and have a variety of formats, which can include being structured, with educational components, or more focused on sharing of experiences. When researching support groups, you’ll want to ask some questions in order to find the right fit.
Support groups exist because there are many people who are experiencing the same problem, and getting people together in groups is an effective way to reach a lot of people in a short amount of time, as well as provide opportunities for people to help one another.
Isolation is a huge component of having a partner with a mental illness. Being part of a group may help you feel less alone, and to realize that there are others who have been there, done that, and still have their relationship intact. Hearing the experiences of other people may provide insight and useful tools for managing your own relationship. In addition, you may be able to share your own experiences and help someone else.
Education is another part of living with someone with a mental illness. Support groups can provide practical information about how to handle illness, and sometimes even information about new treatments that may be available. Resources are often shared, including books and articles, as well as information about skilled clinicians in handling the illness.
If you haven’t yet decided to see your own counselor, a support group can be a good entryway into identifying struggles you are having. For some people, a support group will be enough. For others, seeing the benefits of having an outlet to process thoughts and feelings may lead to deciding to do individual therapy as well.