The Power of Support Groups

Peer support groups provide an opportunity for people with shared life experiences to come together, arrange those pieces, and build the shelf together.

Recently, I bought a shelf for my bathroom. It was one of those shelves to be placed above your toilet, contained 3 shelves, and what felt like hundreds of random pieces. Immediately upon opening the box, I was overwhelmed. There were poles, shelves, screws, bolts, and several other parts I don't know the name of. Oh, and there was a book of instructions that probably should have come with a translator. Three to four hours, several minor temper tantrums, and a few mistakes later, the shelf was complete.  I had done it all on my own.

I then decided I needed one for my second bathroom. This shelf took about 30 minutes from start to finish. The most significant difference was this time my husband was home to assist. Now I was more knowledgeable from the first time around, and I had the power of peer support.

I use the word power intentionally.  When I think of power, my first thought is superheroes or something mightier than myself. Let's think of my shelf as a diagnosis or a significant life event. Each of those little pieces that overwhelmed me are components of this life-altering experience. These small pieces can include doctors, therapists, family members, friends, pharmacists, and even myself. Suddenly there are all these components and people affecting my life, and it's overwhelming.

Because of my new life-altering event, I have lost track of my instruction book. Here I am trying to figure out how to put my life back together or reassemble it in a way that is still functional. I have plenty of resources, but I don't know what each of them does or where they go. I have lots of questions, but I am not sure who has the answers. If only there was a group of people who knew what I was going through.

This is the power of peer support. There is a group of people who know what you are going through. They understand how you feel, know the answers to your questions, and even know the answers to questions you have yet to ask. Peer support groups provide an opportunity for people with shared life experiences to come together, arrange those pieces, and build the shelf together. Peer support does not replace medical care or professional services but enhances the services already received.

Support groups are offered for many life experiences. Some of these are:

  • Addiction
  • Abuse
  • Chronic Illness
  • Grief
  • Caregiving
  • LGBTQ
  • Foster Care/Adoption
  • Mental Health
  • Children/Adolescents

Peer support is providing and receiving knowledge, assistance, encouragement, and support to others who are in similar situations. Some of the benefits include:

  • Connections to others with similar conditions
  • New and different perspectives on life and addiction
  • A better understanding of medical/psychological/emotional conditions and illnesses
  • Hope, reassurance, encouragement, sense of control, relieve stress, anxiety, and depression
  • Increased positivity regarding the sense of self
  • Reduced cravings/feelings in the need to use
  • Non-judgmental sense of community/Ability to talk openly about feelings and experiences
  • Better understanding of addiction as a disease and ways to cope with relapses and triggers
  • Referrals for treatment centers, therapists and doctors and others who can be helpful to recovery
  • Awareness of services and utilize a greater number of services overall
  • Reduced symptoms and hospitalizations
  • Increased social support and participation in the community
  • More thorough and longer-lasting recoveries
  • Decreased morbidity and mortality rates
  • Increased life expectancy
  • Increased knowledge of a disease
  • Improved self-reported health status and self-care skills, including medication adherence

Had I used the power of peer support when I was building my first shelf, I could have saved myself some of the frustration. Peer support is the translator for that confusing instruction manual. The manual is still necessary, but now it is easier to understand.

Author: Felicia Lama

Additional Resources:

https://supportgroupsinkansas.org/

http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/peer-services

http://peersforprogress.org/