When I was a practicing psychotherapist, I often referred patients to support groups, but was selective about whom to send. Support groups aren’t for everyone; they take a certain amount of “breaking in” and require commitment to be beneficial. I also issued a caveat – you won’t like every group; find one that fits for you and keep going back.
An article on AARP.org, written by a psychologist, addressed what makes an excellent caregiver support group and overcoming resistance to attending. Reporting on “one of the best caregiver support groups” he’d ever visited, he observed trust, support, connection and freedom to talk openly about feelings. This long-running support group was for caregivers of those with dementia.
What caregivers don’t realize until they experience a healthy support group is other attendees speak their language. Many people believe no one could possibly understand. The article emphasizes a support group is a safe place to “talk shop” – share strategies, help each other and compare similar caregiver experiences, especially those that are emotionally difficult.
Often support groups have difficulty having enough members to continue or are run by inexperienced leaders. Without committed participants, new attendees in particular will not see the benefits of coming. It’s also hard to trust a group when you haven’t formed any relationships or feel comfortable yet.
The author explains one reason a group might not succeed is typical caregiver reactions:
- I’m not comfortable talking in groups – Many people feel the same, but a good group doesn’t insist that everyone talk. Listening to other’s experiences can be equally valuable. As you become more at ease, you may find you want to tell your story.
- I’m fine, I can handle it without support – Support groups help prevent burnout for those who have been caregivers for years. The article suggests one way to ease into a support group is to attend “caregiver education groups” with a speaker presenting on a specific topic like stress management or Medicare changes.
Don’t be afraid to check out various groups, but commit to attending each at least twice to determine if it’s a good group for you.