A support group is several people who gather to discuss a common issue. That common issue can be anything, from life changes to relationship problems to medical conditions. Support groups for people with pain conditions are a great way to make dealing with chronic pain a little easier.
Benefits of support groups
The benefits of a support group are numerous.
Dealing with a medical condition, particularly an invisible one like chronic pain, is stressful and isolating. One of the biggest benefits of a support group is that it can decrease that isolation. No longer do you have to struggle on with no one that understands what you go through; you’ll have a group of people who’ve had similar experiences and know exactly what you mean when you talk about how you feel.
The ability to express your feelings in a safe environment is another plus to support groups. Talking about your feelings can support good mental health and help you deal with stress. When you’re surrounded by people who’ve never experienced chronic pain, it can be difficult to open up, but a support group allows you to share without fear of being judged.
Additionally, a support group is a great place to learn. Other people in the group may have been living with the same pain condition for a longer time or found different ways to deal with it. You can pick up tips and tricks to make life easier. Also, a support group can put to rest a lot of worries right after being diagnosed with a chronic pain condition. Much of the anxiety and worry comes from simply not knowing what to expect, but by speaking to others at a support group, you can get a clear idea of what the future could hold. You may even be able to get recommendations for physicians, therapists, or other medical professionals in your area.
Because of all the knowledge you can gain at a support group, you may even gain a sense of empowerment or control. It might become easier to accept your pain condition. If you’ve already figured out how to handle your pain condition and don’t need the knowledge from a support group, consider how you felt right after you were diagnosed. Going to a support group could give you the chance to pass on all the knowledge you wish you’d had then.
Support groups versus group therapy
A support group is similar to group therapy, but there are a few differences.
Both support groups and group therapy involve a few people with similar issues coming together for support. However, group therapy is facilitated by a licensed professional, such as a counselor, psychologist, psychiatrist, or social worker. Group therapy is also typically longer, more structured and involved, and has a more specific goal, typically personal growth of some sort. Also, group therapy usually requires a fee, which might be covered by insurance.
A support group, on the other hand, is generally led or moderated by someone with experience, like someone who’s lived with chronic pain for several years, but who is not necessarily a licensed professional. Support groups aren’t as structured, and they usually focus more on how to manage current situations or concerns. Support groups usually are free or require only a very small fee, which may cover refreshments, rental fee for meeting space, or other costs.
Online support groups
Many support groups are entirely online.
An online support group has the benefit of being available to everyone, regardless of location. You might also find an online support group useful because you:
- Live in a small community without much opportunity for support groups
- Are living with a rare condition
- Work hours that don’t allow attendance to local support groups
- Are unable to leave the house easily
An online support group is also convenient. It’s there 24/7, so if you’re awake at 3 in the morning with pain that’s keeping you from sleep, you can post about it and probably find someone else who’s awake for the same reason.
PainDoctor.com has a few online support options. One is the Chronic Pain Forum. It’s a message board where you can post questions, comments, or more and spark conversations between members. The Chronic Pain Forum is also moderated, so if you ask a question, one of the moderators will usually get back to you with an answer fairly quickly.
Another place to tell your story and get some support is the Faces of Pain page. Here you can post a photo with a short message. Users sometimes describe the pain they endure, relay quotes or thoughts that help them get through difficult days, or acknowledge the friends and family that make life brighter.
The Chronic Pain Support Group on Facebook has over 37,000 members and is a very active support group. Members post everything from requests for prayer or support during times of struggle to questions to information to inspirational links. You need a Facebook account to join this support group. It’s also a closed group, which means you’ll have to ask to join it, but the moderators approve requests fairly quickly.
Also, while it’s not technically a support group, the Pain-spiration page is a great place to learn and be inspired. All the amazing infographics from Pain Doctor are here, covering topics from staying healthy on holidays to advocating for chronic pain patients and just about anything else you can think of. You can comment on them, or you can tweet, pin, or share to your Facebook page.
In-person support groups
Online support is great, but if possible, an offline local support group can be great, too.
The human connection you can get from a local support group can be priceless when you’re struggling. The emotions and feelings during an in-person support group are easily clear, without the need for clear statements like “I’m scared” or “I’m upset.”
While online, some people may refrain from saying anything, which can come across as a lack of response. When you’re at an in-person support group, though, even the people who don’t say anything might nod sympathetically or smile supportively. And when you’re upset or frightened, very little can compare to human touch as comfort. Even someone holding your hand can help you feel better.
Another benefit of a local support group is that it’s easier to make friends with the members. Because you’re meeting locally, you know that everyone lives fairly close, so it’s easy to make a friend or two and go out to eat, to a movie, or to the mall. Having a friend who’s had similar experiences can be a fantastic source of support.
Find a local support group
There are several ways to find a local support group.
One easy way to find a local support group is to join a few online support groups and ask around. Additionally ways to find a local support group include:
- Ask a physician, nurse, religious leader, psychologist, librarian, or social worker
- Check newspapers and telephone books
- Check with community centers, libraries, churches, mosques, or temples
- Get in touch with an organization devoted to your disease or condition
- Ask other people who have the same illness or condition
A support group probably won’t cost anything, but if it does, ask one of the leaders if you can attend the first meeting for free. That way you can get a feel for it and see if it’s a good fit before you pay anything.
If you can’t find a local support group that’s right for you, start one.
Are you involved in a support group?
Image by Mosman Council via Flickr