In support groups, members provide each other with various types of help, usually nonprofessional and nonmaterial, for a particular shared, usually burdensome, characteristic. Members with the same issues can come together for sharing coping strategies, to feel more empowered and for a sense of community. The help may take the form of providing and evaluating relevant information, relating personal experiences, listening to and accepting others’ experiences, providing sympathetic understanding and establishing social networks. Support groups may also work to inform the public or engage in advocacy.
Formal support groups may appear to be a modern phenomenon, but they supplement traditional fraternal organizations such as Freemasonry in some respects, and may build on certain supportive functions (formerly) carried out in (extended) families.
Other types of groups formed to support causes, including causes outside of themselves, are more often called advocacy groups, interest groups, lobby groups, pressure groups or promotional groups. Trade unions and many environmental groups, for example, are interest groups. The term support group in this article refers to peer-to-peer support.
Support groups maintain interpersonal contact among their members in a variety of ways. Traditionally, groups have met in person in sizes that allowed conversational interaction. Support groups also maintain contact through printed newsletters, telephone chains, internet forums, and mailing lists. Some support groups are exclusively online (see below).
Membership in some support groups is formally controlled, with admission requirements and membership fees. Other groups are “open” and allow anyone to attend an advertised meeting, for example, or to participate in an online forum.
Decreased Sense of Isolation
Perhaps one of the most important benefits of participating in a support group is a decreased sense of the isolation so many people feel when they are experiencing infertility. In a support group environment, feelings of anger, depression, guilt and anxiety can be expressed, validated by others and accepted as a normal response to the infertility crisis.
Support group members often realize how their experiences in the group have created a special bond and identity between group members. By sharing feelings, accomplishments, losses, and humor known only to those who experience infertility, members can develop strong emotional ties to one another.
Freedom to Express Negative Feelings
The freedom to express negative feelings and to identify with one another helps participants realize that they are not alone in their struggle with infertility. They can experience a sense of emotional relief from the support of others. Members who may already have a highly supportive network of family and friends can find that a group provides a place to continue to share feelings without overburdening loved ones.
By offering a safe place to express and explore the feelings generated by the infertility experience, support groups help participants move toward a positive resolution of this difficult life crisis.
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