August 09, 2013

The benefits of finding a good support group

How sharing with others in a similar situation can offer hope and healing.

As a Licensed Clinical Social Worker at The Hewell Kids’ Kidney Center at Arnold Palmer Hospital, I have many teenage patients express to me that they feel lonely, isolated, and different. They feel that that no one understands what they are going through, and sometimes, they don’t even know what they are going through, or what to expect in the future. They express feelings of grief from losing some of the freedom they once enjoyed and the carefree attitude they once had. Many of these young patients show symptoms of depression and anxiety, too.

The thoughts and feelings expressed by these kids are expected when suffering from a chronic illness. Knowing this, the issue then is how to help these kids cope and adjust, how to connect them to resources, and how to help them realize they are not alone. Clinicians, like myself, could have all of the training in the world, but we could never truly feel what these kids are feeling, or understand what they are going through. For these kids and families who find themselves in this challenging situation, a support group is often a great resource.

The benefits of a support group

The most important function of a good support group is to provide the opportunity for kids to connect and share with other kids who are dealing with the same circumstances. Your peers can help you develop coping skills to deal with your individual situation. Oftentimes, it can help to talk or just listen to others who are also trying to find ways to cope, since they are the ones who can really understand what you are living with. However, it is important to note that support groups are not designed to replace medical or professional counseling. But, sometimes just telling your story will encourage support from the other members in the group.

Support groups can be a great way to get access to resources as well. Many support groups are facilitated by licensed clinical social workers and licensed mental health counselors who have access to local and national resources, and oftentimes, patients and caretakers are eager to share the resources they have located that could benefit others in the group. Speakers are sometimes invited to address the group on local services that are available and helpful, too.

Another important function of a support group is the exchange of phone numbers among members who are interested in doing so. While it is not a requirement of being in a support group, you may find it helpful to call someone who understands, if needed. I’ve seen, firsthand, how this aspect of the support group experience can be very beneficial.

Why should you attend support groups?

For patients, support groups assist in coping and adjusting to: loss, a specific disease or illness, addiction or major life change, anxiety, depression, social isolation, self-esteem, and self-management, which can lead to better health and survival. Patients often find camaraderie and support by meeting with peers with similar experiences. It helps them feel like they are not alone. Support groups can also increase the quality and quantity of support between doctor visits, leading to better self-management. 

For parents and caretakers, interaction with others assists in coping and adjustment to your child’s illness. Parents and caretakers find similar camaraderie and support through mutual experiences. They assist others in locating support and referral services. Interaction with other parent and caretakers can even reinforce one’s own self-health skills.

In a recent support group I facilitated, eight teen patients came together for the first time, not knowing each other very well at all. Before the end of the first session, they had transformed from eight individuals to a very supportive group. They openly shared the problems they face each day, and how they cope and adjust to these issues. They answered questions from peers wanting to know what to expect from a medication or procedure. They shared stories about their school, relationships and their scars. They laughed, joked, learned something about themselves, and acted like typical teens together during this time. They eagerly swapped phone numbers and continue to communicate, even on days the group does not formally meet.

The power of people can never be underestimated, and the support group process demonstrates the healing an individual can find in the experience of sharing with others in a similar situation. 

How do I connect to a support group?

If you are interested in participating or finding out more about support groups in Central Florida, you can contact the Patient & Family Counseling Department at Arnold Palmer Medical Center at 321.841.8053.  

To join the upcoming support group for the Hewell Kids’ Kidney Center at Arnold Palmer Hospital on August 29th, visit the information page, here.

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