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Support groups are meetings or organizations of individuals who are struggling with a shared challenge or experience, such as a mental disorder, life change, grief, trauma, physical illness, relationship issue, or family problems.
The support group provides a place for participants to share common concerns and emotional support. Some support groups are peer-led, while others may be led by a mental health professional. A well-run support group fosters a sense of community and comfort, as members find others going through similar situations and know how they feel. Being with peers can be very healing and beneficial — it can make people feel less lonely and isolated, as well as more connected to and understood by others.
Although not intended to replace therapy, support groups can be a good starting place or a valuable addition to therapy. In cases of substance abuse, they are often part of a relapse prevention plan. Members of support groups share frustrations and successes, referrals to qualified specialists and community resources, and information about what works best when pursuing recovery. They also share friendship and hope for themselves, their loved ones, and others in the group.
Some organizations offer online support groups, discussion boards and blogs as additional ways to connect with others in similar situations. These can extend the connections of in-person support groups, or provide support if no groups are available nearby.
12-Step Recovery Programs
Twelve-step programs have long been an important part of the recovery process and the basis for many recovery programs. Developed over 65 years ago, the program model pioneered by Alcoholics Anonymous defines simple tools for living based on a set of spiritual principles. Equally important, it relies on the fellowship of men and women who share their experiences and offer support as part of a lifelong process of recovery. These programs are designed to assist in recovery from addiction or compulsive behavior based on the principles of acknowledging one's personal insufficiency and accepting help from a higher power. These steps are meant to be worked sequentially as a process of getting rid of addictive behaviors while fostering growth in freedom and happiness.
The process involves the following principles:
- Admitting that one cannot control one's addiction or compulsion
- Recognizing a higher power that can provide strength
- Examining past errors with the help of a sponsor (experienced member)
- Making amends for these errors
- Learning to live a new life with a new code of behavior
- Helping others who suffer from the same addictions or compulsions
When applied properly, 12-step programs can help individuals take steps toward ending their addictions for life. The most common 12-step programs are designed for individuals who abuse drugs or alcohol.
Nonprofit Organizations and Social Service Agencies
Numerous nonprofit organizations are dedicated to research, awareness, education, advocacy and support on behalf of those affected by mental illnesses and other emotional and behavioral concerns. Many offer online resources addressing a wide spectrum of mental health concerns, while others focus on specific psychiatric disorders and populations. Locally based organizations also offer mental health and social service resources for people in the community.
Faith-Based Counseling and Services
Faith-based organizations, such as local congregations, community organizations, hospitals or charities, may provide or host mental health programs or services. These programs may be nondenominational, welcoming all faiths, or they may be aligned with a specific religion. Examples include 12-step addiction recovery programs that are part of a church ministry; support groups for members of a specific faith; or outpatient group therapy programs offered by a faith-based hospital system. These may be facilitated by a lay leader or by an accredited mental health professional who integrates therapeutic techniques with connections to participants' religious beliefs and spirituality.
Employee Assistance Programs
Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) are worksite-based programs and resources designed to benefit both employers and employees. EAP benefits for employees (and often their families) include mental health-related services and referrals; drug and alcohol-related services and referrals; and services and referrals related to challenging emotional and personal issues, such as divorce. Employees who have EAP or behavioral health programs through their employers may take advantage of confidential access to professional care, self-help programs, interactive tools, and educational resources to support them in dealing with life's changes and challenges.
In addition to seeking professional treatment for psychiatric disorders or mental issues, individuals can work on problems themselves through a process of self-help. Self-help for mental health involves learning about one’s specific disorders and emotional issues, learning how they can be resolved, and then choosing and pursuing a course of action that will support recovery and resolution of those issues. Self-help resources include books and publications, educational websites and participating in support groups.
The information on this site is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your qualified mental health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. We do not recommend or endorse any specific tests, mental health providers, products, procedures, opinions, or other information that may be mentioned on this site. Reliance on any information provided herein is solely at your own risk.