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Second look: On when support groups support

Posted Dec 30 2009 12:21am

Anyone who has struggled with any kind of mental health issues at all knows that support is a major part of recovery.  It simply doesn’t happen by yourself.  A support group or support system doesn’t work just because there are a lot of people involved.  They work when the person seeking support emotionally buys into them.  A group that is an effective support for one person may not be for another.  The difference is the emotional investment.

What defines whether or not you experience a support system as offering real support to you.  To believe that a group offers genuinine support for you there are 4 things you must come to believe:

  1. You must believe there is something in it for you.  The group must be seen as being credible.  You must believe that they want to help and that they have the capability to help.  Many times, whether it be because the have doubts about how welcome they are or whatever, people doubt whether or not a group really wants to help.  Sometimes they believe that the group does not have the knowledge or capabilities to do what it needs to help.  Competency is the issue.  People do not invest in a group they feel offers them nothing.
  2. You must believe that you have something to give.  People only buy into groups they feel like they can contribute to.  If you don’t feel like you matter, that you have impact you tend not to buy in.
  3. You must believe that you are safe.  Trust is essential.  You must feel like it is okay to be yourself.  You must feel like it is safe to share who you are: what you think, what you feel, and what you do.  Sometimes in groups people feel like they need to cover up what they really feel or think for fear of being rejected or criticized.  Many people with mental health issues have never really felt safe around other people and finding a safe place is a major achievement.
  4. Finally you must believe that someone cares.  You must believe that people have a positive affection for you that is demonstrated by what  they do.  Again many people with mental health issues have never really felt like they are cared about.  Sometimes people just do not feel like anybody could care for them if they really knew them.  This is a major achievement for all of us.

When these four conditions are met people emotionally invest in the process.  Then we can see.  The real magic in life is what we do with other people and what they do with us.

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