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Strength in numbers: Finding comfort in a support group

“When I found out I had breast cancer, my friends and family were really there for me,” says Karly. “But it wasn’t until I joined a support group that I felt truly understood. Somehow knowing that everyone else in the room actually knew what I was experiencing inspired me and gave me confidence. Even today, five years after my diagnosis, I still attend the meetings. Sometimes being a ‘survivor’ is hard, too.”

Karly’s sentiments echo what others who have benefited from support groups affirm time and again: Sharing emotions and problems with others facing similar challenges can provide strength as well as numerous practical solutions. It helps people feel less alone and may even be therapeutic. Researchers are currently seeking to duplicate findings of a 1989 Stanford University study in which women with metastatic breast cancer who attended a support group survived about 18 months longer and were less depressed than women who didn’t seek group support.

If you are having trouble coping with a physical, mental or emotional problem, consider turning outside your immediate circle for help. When looking for a group, ask yourself these questions to ensure a good fit:

  • Do I prefer a structured, classroom-like setting or would I feel more at ease in a spontaneous, homelike setting?
  • Would I like a professional facilitator, such as a social worker or a nurse, to run the group or would I prefer a group in which the members themselves take turns leading the meeting?
  • Will I feel uncomfortable exchanging personal details with others?
  • Would a faith-based group appeal to me?
  • Would I prefer a single-sex or mixed-sex group?

Ask your physician, other healthcare providers, friends or clergy members for suggestions if you think a support group could be helpful. And remember, there is no harm in trying. If you find that a particular group is not right for you, you can visit another or hold off until you’re ready.