Hello, Kidsister here with a bit of an odd topic. I wasn’t sure where to put this, so I chose my normal corner of the forum.
If it’s Ok, I would like to post a little bit about Support groups. I hope there is no cringing and recalling bad memories of drafty rooms, rancid coffee and stray people just waiting for the bus. I’ve read quite a few posts here by people who have not had very positive experiences with support groups.
I have to admit, I’ve had a few bad experiences too. But I’ve also had some good. I was pulled to many a group before I was part of a sibling support group that was facilitated by Swedish Medical. It was recommended to me by one of my oldest brother’s doctors.
(considering the source of the recommendation is a good tip)
At the time, it was a lifesaver. It got me through many years of turmoil and was an amazing “normalizing” part of my week. I was no longer the girl with the turbulent family or the life stories that no one could relate to. I was in a room of 11- 17 other teens that were going through the same exact thing I was.
My wild rides with my oldest brother, my deepest sorrows, and my strangest moments were all “normal” to this entire room of people. Sometimes we didn’t even talk about Sz at all. Sometimes we just talked about school bullies, how to stay on top of homework in a house that is fraying at the edges or how to broaden our support network.
I learned so much from that group. I learned what to do in times of crisis, how to not take negative symptoms personally, and how to help my oldest brother in a way that made a positive difference. The support group helped me understand what I couldn’t even fathom. It kept Sz from destroying my friendship with my amazing oldest brother.
Life moved on and so did I; and I have lost touch with my support group. Well, nearly a year later, and the youngest brother has come home with a Bipolar 1 label and I’m trying to reconnect, learn about and get to know this man again. Just like last time, I have more questions than answers. I am aching to hear someone say, “OH, I’ve seen that before, yes, he can overcome that.” and “don’t take his depression personally, he’s not depressed AT you”
I’m on the hunt for a support group again. But I’m not starting from square one like I was last time.
I just wanted to share a few things that I thought were important when looking for a support group.
When you are seeking a support group, I would start by asking “Why am I going?”
Are you going to vent, discuss, open up and finally get it off your chest, while embracing others going through the same thing? Or are you quickly trying to find the facts, the resources, and the professional connections? I think my family has used both reasons depending on the situation. Sometimes you need the facts, quickly. Other times, you need a good laugh and a reassuring hug. (along with some stale coffee)
Once you figure out why you’re going, next would be what to look for:
First- Is it organized and consistent?
If you feel like you’re trying to find the secret password, and no one has contacted you, and the meeting might be held on the second Tuesday of every other month unless it’s raining, then this is not well organized group. You want a group that responds to contact promptly and is not afraid to answer some basic questions about itself.
Second- Does it have a confidentiality policy or good boundaries?
It should. Is there a general amount of respect paid towards confidentiality? Do people respect a story that is not theirs to tell? Do you hear a lot of gossip and reference to other members situations too early in the game. Example- “That’s Pat over there, he’s bipolar with a three divorces under his belt, if he keeps his jacket on all night, it’s a sure sign he’s cutting again.” If stuff like that is happening, run away. People have their own story to tell. One up-man ship and gossip do not make for a healthy, open support group.
Also, look for balance. It’s good to vent, it feels great to let off steam, but if that’s all the group is; then it’s not a support group. It’s a gripe session and it’s not always healthy.
Third-Does it have good Leadership?
A good leader is key to the dynamic of the group. Is the person leading the group equipped with up-to-date and accurate information? Are they a professional or a peer? Either one is fine, but you want to know stuff like this going in. Does the leader or facilitator have a set frame work, or is it more free flow? Again, either one is fine if it works for you, but knowing this going in will help you prepare for what your walking into.
My personal little criteria: How well does it integrate or welcome new members? Are new members banned from speaking or forced to spill their life story right then and there? Are you greeted with a “Hello how are you?” Or are you greeted with, “Who are you and why are you here?”
A good leader that lets a new member feel included and yet warm up at their own pace is a good sign for me.
Wish me luck as I once again go on the hunt for a support group.
Thank you for letting me post.