News | Published March 11, 2013 | Written by Cheri Woll, RN, BS, CCM, oncology nurse navigator

Can a support group help you?

Have you been diagnosed with cancer or another chronic disease? Are you a caregiver for someone with a chronic illness? Have you lost someone close to you? Are you a survivor and now want to give back by helping others who are newly diagnosed or going through a tough time? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then a support group may be just what you need.

Several studies have found that support groups can be a beneficial resource that is available to patients, caregivers of patients and survivors. There are different types of support groups, and finding the right one depends on your preference:

  • Self-help support groups: A self-help support group is organized and managed by its members, who are commonly volunteers and have personal experience in the subject of the group's focus.
  • Professionally operated support groups: These types of support groups are facilitated by professionals who may or may not share the problem of the members. The facilitator controls discussions and provides organizational support for the group.
  • Online support groups: Online support groups are also becoming popular and are helpful for those who are homebound, have limited free time to attend meetings or don't live near a group that meets their needs.

Support groups have many benefits, including:

  • Bringing together people facing similar issues
  • Offering companionship and informational support
  • Allowing you to confirm that your feelings are "normal"
  • Providing you with a safe environment where you can just "let off steam”
  • Gaining a sense of empowerment and control
  • Improving your coping skills
  • Reducing stress
  • Developing a clearer understanding of what to expect with your situation
  • Getting practical advice and information about treatment options
  • Comparing notes about resources available to you

Additionally, support groups can be fun (with picnics and special events) and can allow you to form friendships with members. 

Support groups are usually ongoing, have open membership and typically meet monthly; however, some support groups, such as a grief support group, may meet for a limited number of weeks. Oftentimes, support groups vary their format, alternating between inviting professionals to talk about a topic related to the group's needs and having "open" meetings that emphasize emotional support and shared experiences – making sure you are receiving all of the resources you need.

If a group doesn't feel right to you or doesn't meet your needs, try a different group.

While a support group is not a replacement for your medical care, it can be a valuable resource to help you cope. To find a support group that is right for you, speak with a healthcare professional, ask others with the same illness if they know of a support group or go to Mount Nittany Health offers several types of support groups that can help you and also lists other available local groups.