Maximizing the Benefits of Your Support Group Experience

Contributor: Lauren Day, LPC, LCDC, The Ranch at Dove Tree

startup-593344_640Support groups serve great benefit to its participants as it provides people facing similar challenges or illness the opportunity to find help by merely meeting one another.

Sharing the wisdom and experiences of others enduring the same struggles provides a sense of relief, solutions and mitigates the feelings of isolation amongst such emotional or physical strife (Davison, Pennebaker, & Dickerson, 2000).

Research findings indicate that self-help support groups have been found to be as effective as professional treatments for varying mental or physical illnesses (Gould & Clum, 1993). One of the greatest experts in the field of group therapy, Irvin Yalom, poses that self-help support groups provide a unique outlet that promotes growth, social experimentation and change (1995).

The bond that occurs when people share the emotional weight of their common suffering is not easily replicated and can be the social aspect that permits a person to obtain personal resiliency.

Research the Group

Because of the value that support groups offer a person, it is important to be aware of how to obtain the greatest benefit possible from such groups. When researching support groups, it is important to determine whether the group is an open or a closed group.

A closed group means that the group is not accepting new members either due to size or the dynamic flow of the group. An open group is accessible to anyone who would like to attend the group, and there is typically not a commitment to remain in the group for a set period of time.

The published support group listing should indicate whether or not the group is open or closed, however a phone call to the facilitator to double check is never a bad idea.

Be Honest, Authentic, and Vulnerable

seminar-594125_640When you decide that you are ready to attend a support group, you must fight any tendencies to accept negative social stigmas you may associate with self-help groups. You may be tempted to feel that you are “weak” for needing the help of others, be fearful that others won’t accept you, or you will feel like you are burdening others by “complaining” about your struggles.

The reality is that we are all suffering to one degree or another; it is the ones that have true courage who are willing to seek out the support of others. The ability to be vulnerable and admit suffering is where the strength of a person becomes evident, and this honest transparency creates the platform for others to feel safe in voicing their own painful experience.

When you enter into a group and decide to be completely transparent, you will experience the process of honesty and truth, which always leads to healing in one way or another.

Practice Acceptance and Tolerance

Though you will be in a group with others suffering from similar conditions that you are, you may become acutely aware of the differences you share with others. There may be group members who have not had the same revelations you have had, who are more focused on the problem than the solution, or who just outright annoy you.

It is very easy to slip into a quarry of frustration when others do not see things as you do, or are not where you are in the process of healing. It is helpful to go into the group setting with the mindset that you will practice tolerance and acceptance of where each person is in the group.

In my experience with support groups, these annoyances can greatly interfere with one’s ability to receive the full benefit of group when too much attention is paid to them. Therefore, I urge you to don’t let these peripheral issues keep you from gaining all you can from the group.

Let Group Members Share the Weight

team-472488_640When going through difficult life circumstances, there can be the overwhelming sense that one must carry the burden by their self. Just daily living can encompass a nagging and daunting reminder of your struggling that works minute by minute to exhaust you and keep the reality of your suffering close to mind.

Carrying the Weight of Your Emotional Burden

Though the group cannot necessarily fix the problem, give yourself permission to allow other group members to carry some of the weight of your emotional burden.

You might have the thought, “How can I give them more suffering when they already have a fair dose?” but the reality is that humans function best when they share a connectedness that not only shares the victories, but also the struggles.

Leaving Your Emotions on the Floor

Allow the group to be a place where you are able to mentally and emotionally dump the weight in the group. Allow yourself to lay it out on to floor in the midst of other group members and rest in the notion that you can leave it sitting on the floor until the next time you meet. Resist the temptation to pick it all back up and carry it out the door with you.

Don’t worry; it will be there in the group still waiting for you when you return to the next meeting. This will greatly contribute to the benefit you gain from the support group, as the cathartic release will serve more than a momentary relief for you.

Your willingness to leave some of this emotional weight in the group also promotes an environment where others can mimic your behavior and find relief as well.

Getting Your Life Back

group-609640_640A support group helps you learn how to get your life back. It aims to normalize your experience and let you know that you alone; two very valuable principles for a person to know who is in the midst of suffering.

The courage of a group of people coming together saying they are unwilling to let their suffering continue to dictate their life is perhaps one of the most powerful experiences that one can encounter. So, take off the hats, the masks, the faces, and let yourself be, in the midst of others just being.

Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!

What steps did you take to become more comfortable in support groups settings? If it came easily for you, why do you think it was easier for you than some? How have support groups impacted your recovery?

About the Ranch at Dove Tree:

The Ranch at Dove Tree is one of the nation’s leaders of collegiate-focused drug addiction treatment and behavioral health comprehensive treatment with recovery resiliency services. The treatment center offers hope through two separate alcohol and drug programs, one for collegiate-aged men, women and their families as well as one for other traditional adults.

The facility provides individualized, skills-focused treatment for addiction based on evidence-based practices combined with the 12-Step foundational model for drug and alcohol rehab. The staff specializes in alcohol and drug addiction treatment with co-occurring issues, such as depression, anxiety, disordered eating and trauma.

Founded in 2002, The Ranch at Dove Tree is privately owned, operated and licensed through the Texas Department of State Health Services to ensure high-quality standards are met and exceeded through our comprehensive treatment programs.


  1. Davison, K. P., Pennebaker, J. W., & Dickerson, S. S. (2000). Who talks? The social psychology of illness support groups. American Psychologist, 55(2), 205-217.
  2. Gould, R. A., & Clum, G. A. (1993). A meta-analysis of self-help treatment approaches. Clinical Psychology Review, 13, 169-186.
  3. Yalom, I. D. (1995). The theory and practice of group psychotherapy. New York: Basic Books.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addiction. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on March 31st, 2015
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About Baxter Ekern

Baxter Ekern is the Vice President of Ekern Enterprises, Inc. He contributed and helped write a major portion of Addiction Hope and is responsible for the operations of the website.