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How to Choose the Right Support Group

There are many reasons to seek the help of a support group. And nearly just as many options to choose from. So how do you know which one is best for you?

We spoke with Kristi Welty, MSN, RN, program coordinator at the OhioHealth Dempsey Family Education and Resource Center, about what to consider when selecting a support group, and where to find them.

What types of support groups exist?

Welty says there is a support group out there for everyone. Often, they relate to a clinical diagnosis, but they don’t have to. Many are for caregivers, or family and children of those diagnosed with a chronic illness.

Support groups can meet in-person or online, and both can take a variety of forms – some are purely discussion-based, others also offer education and resources.

What should I ask before choosing a support group?

“First and foremost, you need to ask yourself what you want to get out of it,” says Welty.

“Are you only seeking an emotional or social component, or do you want something more, like education or solutions to the problems you bring to the group?”

Welty also recommends asking:

  • Who is leading the group? Is it someone who shares your diagnosis? Or is it a professional, such as a nurse, psychologist or social worker? What is their style and experience level, and how well do they manage the group?
  • Is the group accessible? Will you have to travel far to meet with the group? If you have a disability, will you have trouble entering or navigating the host location?
  • Is there a financial cost? If yes, it’s a red flag. Welty says there should never be a fee for a support group, and you should never feel pressured to purchase products or services from the group or from speakers they bring in.
  • How frequently does the group meet, and at what time? Will it work with your regular schedule?
  • What is a typical meeting like? Do people share their experiences the whole time? Is it organized? Are there presentations or speakers?
  • Are there ground rules? What expectations are set to prevent certain individuals from manipulating the meeting? How is confidentiality protected? 

Where can I find a support group?

OhioHealth offers numerous support groups to patients and families that address health conditions and grief. Most include emotional as well as educational components. Several meet at the OhioHealth Dempsey Family Education and Resource Center, and some meet in the regional communities we serve.

Welty says another great way to find support groups is to visit the websites of national organizations, such as the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America, National Stroke Association or the American Diabetes Association. “Their sites often have a place for you to search by ZIP code or city to find a group close to you.”

Associates at the Dempsey Family Education and Resource Center also often refer patients who are not local to the Ohio Agency on Aging, which connects both patients and caregivers with support throughout the state.

Don’t be afraid to give it a try

It can be daunting to join a group where you may be expected to be vulnerable, speak in front of others, or revisit painful and difficult memories. But Welty highly recommends it.

“Support groups are so valuable, especially for caregivers. Realizing you’re not alone, and feeling safe and embraced by those who understand what you are going through is very powerful.”

“When you’re in the hospital, your healthcare team does their best to educate you about your immediate situation, but they can’t always address what you need after care. The support you receive from peers and professionals in a group setting can be sometimes just as lifesaving as the acute care you receive.”

To learn more about OhioHealth support groups and resources near you, visit OhioHealth.com.