In this age of support groups, there seem to be support groups popping up everywhere and for everything. Seniors, in particular, seem to be the intended “market” for many of these support groups. But, how can you tell if you’ve found a good group, or if you are getting the most out of the support group you’ve joined? What, in fact, can a senior reasonably expect from participation in a support group? Here are some tips and suggestions for evaluating a support group and making sure it’s adding to your life and not eating up time and energy…
Consider your purpose for joining a support group. Are you looking for encouragement and support for dealing with a chronic medical condition, dementia, or a particular personal or family situation? Or, are you looking to expand your social network? You may also consider joining a support group for education, help with grieving or loss, or any number of other reasons. It helps to know what your motivation is and what you expect to get out of a support group in order to help you evaluate whether your needs are being met. Of course, you will most certainly find with a good support group that you get far more than you bargained for or intended, but if you are getting far LESS, you’ll know you need to find another group.
The dynamic and how the group is organized may be a factor for you as well. Every support group has a “culture” and a way of interacting which can be influenced by the facilitator and the dynamic of the participants within the group. You’ll need to find a group where you not only feel welcome, but where you also feel the group dynamic is positive for your personality. Things like communication, promptness, and even location and seating arrangements can influence whether a person has a positive experience in a support group or not. Some groups are meant only for one gender-males or females, while others are co-educational. Some have a pretty homogeneous age demographic (all seniors) while others are more multi-generational. You can certainly take your time and do some research. If you live in an area of any size-even mid-size and smaller towns now have multiple choices for some support groups-you can shop around until you find the right “fit.”
As you begin participating in a support group, you’ll need to stay open and involved. But, you’ll also want to periodically ask yourself if your life is better off because of your participation. Are you feeling more educated, supported, encouraged, or aware? Does your life feel as though it has been made richer or is expanding because of your participation in the group? While it is probably not fair to expect a drastic change in your life because you have become involved in a support group-it is fair to expect that you feel better and when you evaluate your participation, you actually feel that the group is a valuable addition to your life. If not, it may be time to look for a different support group.