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What is a Support Group?

Medically Reviewed by: Charley Allen

Table of Contents

A support group, also known as a social support group, is composed of individuals who regularly meet under the supervision of a facilitator to overcome or cope with a common problem. In a support group, people provide support, comfort, encouragement, and guidance as they tackle their issues together.

Find out more about the types of support groups and information on how to join one.

Types of Support Groups

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There are different types of support groups, which vary in terms of the issues they deal with. The way support groups convene and what the participants do during the meetings also vary.

Here are the most common types of support groups:

12-Step Groups

You may have heard of the widely-renowned support group Alcoholics Anonymous. This support group originally devised the 12 steps, which are the foundations for recovery. Among the 12 steps are the principles of honesty, surrender, integrity, acceptance, and humility. These core values serve as a source of strength and hope for people in recovery.

Most 12-step programs are designed for those with an addiction to certain substances or behavior, whether alcohol, drugs, gambling, or Internet use. The 12 steps to recovery are practiced by individuals at group meetings.

12-step self-help groups are generally peer-led. They are open to everyone and frequently provide separate sessions for the families of individuals struggling with addiction. For instance, Al-Anon support groups are for families and friends of people struggling with alcoholism.

Members of 12-step self-help groups may share their personal experiences, listen to other people’s stories, and assist one another by offering suggestions or ideas for coping strategies. Participants in these groups may feel more liberated to speak candidly than those in groups led by a professionally-trained facilitator, although this isn’t always the case. 12-step programs are typically cost-free.

Mutual Support Groups

Similar to 12-step programs, mutual support groups are run by peers. Although peers are trained, they usually do not offer professional advice. Instead, they facilitate support and encouragement among the participants. People struggling with a specific condition or personal issues, such as a medical diagnosis, grief, or domestic violence, may join a mutual support group.

Mutual support groups may also help people dealing with certain conditions, such as the American Cancer Society for cancer patients. In mutual support groups, members discuss coping strategies that work for them and encourage others to follow suit. Mutual support groups are usually free of charge.

Therapy Groups

Therapy groups are facilitated by mental health professionals, as opposed to 12-step groups and mutual support groups. A qualified therapist gathers several participants who are dealing with similar challenges and offers group therapy to them. Members of these support groups may share their personal experiences and get professional guidance and perspectives on addressing their own problems. 

There are therapy groups accessible for various mental health conditions, such as depression and eating disorders. A therapy group may ask for high fees. In some cases, health insurance may cover it.

Online Support Groups

Online support groups may be helpful when meeting in person is not possible. They are a great alternative when transportation is not available, the distance is too far, or your work or family schedule does not allow you to attend an in-person support group meeting. There may or may not be a fee for joining an online support group.

The various types of support groups can meet in person or virtually through video conferencing tools. In-person meetings may be held in hospitals, clinics, community centers, offices, or treatment facilities, but online meetings may be accessed from any location over the Internet.

Ready to find a support group perfect for you? Contact us at (424)327-4614 to learn more.

Possible Risks

Support groups may have possible risks and negative aspects. On that note, successful groups primarily rely on the group leader or facilitator to help stay clear of many problems, including:

  • Lack of confidentiality

  • The conversation may be dominated by grumbling or complaining

  • Group members may cause trouble

  • Interpersonal difficulties, conflict within the group, or emotional entanglements

  • Comparisons of whose circumstance or experience is worse

  • Incorrect or unreliable medical advice

  • Scheduling conflicts

  • Possible personality clash among group members

  • Members with social anxiety may struggle with sharing their experiences

The facilitator, whether they are a professional or an ordinary person, must be knowledgeable and competent. Capable facilitators understand how to set boundaries and stick to a timetable while allowing each member to speak. They play an important role in bringing together the same issues within the group that sparked the most effective conversations.

Despite the possible risks, peer support groups are generally advantageous. To steer clear of issues, facilitators must exhibit careful planning, compassion, structure, consistency, and maintenance. 

How to Find a Support Group

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You may access support groups through medical providers, social workers, clinics, mental health organizations, or community organizations such as churches. Many support groups can also be found on health websites and online forums. Other support groups are run by independent individuals, and these are commonly referred to as peer-led support groups.

For specific illnesses and conditions, support group information may be available on the Mental Health America website. Such groups can also be discovered through referrals from family and friends.

With Design for Recovery, finding a support group is easier than before. Simply call us at (424)327-4614 to book an appointment.

Questions to Ask Before Joining a Support Group

The structure and focus areas of support groups may differ. Before attending a support group, consider the following questions:

  • What are the confidentiality guidelines?

  • Is the group intended for those with a specific medical condition or addiction?

  • Is a facilitator or moderator present?

  • When and how often does the support group meet?

  • Where does the group get together?

  • What does a typical meeting look like?

  • Is the group meeting for a specific time, or does it meet indefinitely?

  • Is there a mental health professional in the group?

  • Has the facilitator had any training?

  • Is there a set of ground rules for group participation?

  • Are there online communities for this support group?

  • Is it free, and if not, how much does it cost?

Knowing how to prepare for the first meeting will be easier once these questions are addressed. Making a list of your objectives and expectations in advance and noting any observations may be helpful.

Rules and expectations are necessary to ensure members feel comfortable. To prevent someone from dominating the discussion, it is standard for groups to impose a time limit of 1-2 minutes per participant. If someone is uncomfortable sharing, a “pass rule” is often in place. Group members are encouraged to be empathetic, respectful and uphold full confidentiality.

Getting the Most Out of a Support Group

When you join a new group, you may be concerned about sharing your struggles with someone you don’t know. At first, merely listening may be helpful. However, expressing your thoughts and experiences may benefit you because you won’t feel lonely or isolated in your struggles.

You may also consider a few things to get the most out of attending a support group:

  • Be considerate to others in the group. People who attend support groups are coping with significant, sensitive, and emotionally-driven topics. Always listen actively to other members and offer encouragement and support. Take note that there’s always the possibility that anything will upset or trigger you during the group session. If you do not feel comfortable with a certain topic, bring it to the facilitator’s attention and allow them the opportunity to help resolve the situation.

  • Attend regularly. Attending a support group consistently may allow you to make the most of your recovery process. It will assist you in becoming familiar with other group members and increase your sense of comfort and confidence.

  • Join in on the discussion. Participation in a discussion keeps the conversation going and everyone interested. Be open and honest about your experiences and feelings, and be willing to give and receive feedback from others. The other participants may learn from your updates on making progress and any helpful advice you may want to share with them.

Are you or a loved one looking for a support group that can turn your life around? Contact us at (424)327-4614 to learn more.

Myths and Misperceptions About Support Groups

In some communities, there is still a stigma connected with mental illness and attending support groups. Some of the common myths and misperceptions about support groups people ponder on include the following:

  • Myth: There are no solutions in support groups.

Fact: While support groups are not a cure for all your problems, you will obtain some answers and a lot of support while addressing a complex or sensitive issue.

  • Myth: I might face insults or criticism from other participants.

Fact: An effectively managed support group establishes boundaries and requires participants to demonstrate empathy, confidentiality, and respect for one another.

  • Myth: I will be forced to tell even the most sensitive parts of my story.

Fact: In most support groups, you have the option of speaking (or not speaking) as you see fit.

Dealing with a significant problem like addiction or mental illness may be difficult and emotionally exhausting. As a result, it is normal to experience anxiety or shame when joining a support group for the first time. Nonetheless, joining a support group demonstrates acceptance that the problem you’re dealing with is real, that you can no longer stay away from it, and that you need support. Through a support group, you’ll meet new people who are more understanding and compassionate of your situation than some of your closest friends and family members tend to be.

It’s important to remember that a support group is not a replacement for medical treatment. Inform your doctor that you are attending a support group. If you do not think a support group is appropriate for you but need help coping with your condition or situation, speak with your treatment provider about counseling, outpatient treatment, or other recovery options, such as sober living homes.

At Design for Recovery sober living homes, we provide a safe and structured environment where people may learn vital everyday skills to help them transition from residential treatment into regular life. Our sober living provides resources that allow residents to attend 12-step meetings, build a sober social network, and explore the underlying issues behind mental health problems or addiction through counseling. Contact us to learn more about our sober living programs.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Support Groups

There are many benefits to forming a peer support group, especially under the umbrella of a larger organization, such as Alcoholics Anonymous. Here are the basic steps for creating a peer support group:

  1. Establish the goals you want to achieve. Determine the objective of your support group and who you want to serve. Consider creating vision and purpose statements for your support group.
  2. Determine if your support group can be part of any current national, regional, or local groups. A larger organization may frequently provide resources and aid in establishing a new support group. It may also make it easier for people to locate you.
  3. Choose if the support group will be closed or open. Open support group meetings are accessible to the public, whereas closed sessions are exclusive to program participants.
  4. Choose a team leader or facilitator. Choosing the right people to lead your group is extremely important. The team leader opens and closes meetings, establishes a safe atmosphere, helps members learn to listen and support each other, and solves problems that may arise during the meeting.
  5. Think about whether the group will meet for a set amount of time or an indefinite amount of time. Most support groups operate for a long time, while others may only be available for a limited time.
  6. Schedule a meeting and select a venue for your support group. The location should be readily accessible to those attending the support group. Choose a time when the majority of people will be able to attend.
  7. Add members to your support group. In general, it is better to have a group that is large enough to work successfully even when some members are not present yet small enough that everyone feels at ease. As a general guideline, 5 to 15 persons is a fair quantity.

Participants in support groups can connect with others who are in similar situations. People can discuss their experiences, vent, and offer support to other members. They can support one another in dealing with stressful situations and improving their well-being. Members of support groups provide social and mental support to one another.

Whether you’re seeking help with addiction, depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or situational crisis, getting out of your comfort zone and joining a support group can be a great first step toward healing.

The most prevalent support groups are self-help groups for mental health and 12-step groups, such as Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous.

Identifying multiple types of support can help discover more options for recovery and connectedness.

  1. Emotional Support
Empathy, care, trust, hope, and love are all examples of emotional support. A family member and a close friend may frequently offer emotional support.
  1. Informational Support
Sometimes the type of support people need is information. Any advice, suggestions, or details that can assist an individual in overcoming a challenge are considered informational support.
  1. Tangible Support
Taking over responsibilities for someone else so they can cope with a situation, or taking a proactive approach to help someone manage a problem they’re experiencing, are examples of tangible support. Body language can also show support, such as hugging or patting the individual on the arm.
  1. Esteem Support
Esteem support manifests in expressions of confidence or encouragement. Someone providing support may bring out strengths you are unaware of or just let you realize that they believe in you.
  1. Belonging Support
You might experience this support from local communities, such as organizations or churches. Even if you are unable to attend in person, you know that connecting with this group and its members gives you a sense of belonging and place.
  1. Material Support
Material support, often called instrumental support, refers to any physical, material aid or service provided to another individual. Someone providing money to a friend who has suddenly lost a source of income or a student sharing a textbook with a classmate are examples of this.
  1. Social Network Support 
Social network support, or online social support, is described as messages that contribute to a person’s sense of belonging to a certain group of people who share similar interests or conditions. For instance, people spending time responding to your messages could be viewed widely as a form of network support. Several online groups are also available, such as those addressing mental health problems.

Support groups are often referred to as fellowship, social support groups, or peer support groups.

Community support groups gather people who share common struggles and experiences related to chronic medical conditions, addiction, or personal circumstances. People can communicate with others going through similar things and provide support, valuable learnings, and practical guidance from their own experiences.

  1. Ko, H. C., Wang, L. L., & Xu, Y. T. (2013). Understanding the different types of social support offered by the audience to A-list diary-like and informative bloggers. Cyberpsychology, behavior, and social networking, 16(3), 194–199.


Edited by: David Beasley

David Beasley - Design for Recovery

David Beasley is a certified RADT (Registered Alcohol/Drug Technician). David, moved to California from North Carolina after many failed attempts to get sober.

Medically Reviewed by: Charley Allen

Charley earned his Masters of Clinical Psychology from Antioch University, Los Angeles, and is a California Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT).He teaches mindfulness to both adults and children in group setting such as schools, corporate workplaces, and medical treatment facilities.

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