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The Benefits of Online Support Groups

A support group is a regular gathering of peers who have come together to provide each other with support and solutions, usually around a set topic. Support groups may or may not be led by a therapist or other professional.

Support groups are great because they offer a strong sense of camaraderie and belonging, along with a feeling of not being alone with your problems. Support groups are a great place to get feedback, suggestions, empathy, and friendship.

Thanks to the wonders of technology, support groups have branched out and are now available online. Online support groups have been around for a while now and provide that same sense of belonging, camaraderie, and support.

It’s important to note that while support groups have tremendous therapeutic value, they are not a replacement for individual therapy nor are they appropriate for addressing psychiatric or other health emergencies.

Benefits of Online Support Groups

While online support will never replace the importance of face-to-face care, it bridges the gap and is of tremendous value to those who need online help for any reason.

For so many people, online support groups have been a real lifeline. Ironically, people in today’s fast-paced and connected world are experiencing a profound sense of isolation. Support groups help ease that sense of isolation. Online support groups have helped people who are unable or unwilling to attend in-person support groups. Examples are people who struggle with mobility or other physical health problems, lack transportation, or have mental health issues that make showing up in person difficult.

Here are some additional pros of online support groups to consider:

  • Are accessible. All you have to do is get online or on your phone and you have instant support.
  • Work well for those times when you need extra support in between therapy visits.
  • Perfect for those who live in a more remote location or for those who travel a lot.
  • Helpful for parents of young children or caregivers who need support but don’t have a lot of time.
  • Allow you to access a group of like-minded peers who understand what you are going through and can give feedback, support, and suggestions.

Cons of Online Support Groups

While online support groups are wonderful, they have their drawbacks as well. Online support groups offer much-needed help for those who need it, whether as a supplement to in-person groups and support, or in place of it. While there is no doubt they are a positive and necessary element of help and support, there are some drawbacks. They include:

  • It’s easy to have misunderstandings. No matter how accustomed people are to communicating online these days, it’s easy to fall victim to online miscommunication. Without the addition of voice tone, body language, and facial expression, some statements, questions, or feedback may not translate or land the way they were intended.
  • Potential for bullying. Cyberbullying is a problem, and while most online support spaces are actively moderated, unhelpful or otherwise inappropriate remarks might make their way through, harming people who are there seeking support.
  • Lack of commitment. One of the biggest upsides to online support groups is convenience. It’s easy to sign in and join the conversation. However, it’s just as easy to skip “attending” groups because there is less personal investment.

How Do Online Support Groups Work?

There are several ways an online support group can work. For example, some groups may be topical and meet at a certain time. They may meet in a chat room or other online space for a set period. In addition, there may be access to an around-the-clock message or chat space where group members have access day or night. This is a great way to stay connected and get support at any time.

Online support groups are typically centered on a specific topic or situation. Some examples of topical online support groups may include:

  • Support for depression, anxiety, or similar issues
  • Grief and loss support
  • Addiction and recovery support
  • Trauma recovery support
  • Postpartum support
  • Chronic illness support

These are just a few of the online support groups that are out there. Without any time, distance, or other constraints, it’s easier to find like-minded individuals, people who speak your language or understand your situation. If you live in an area where you don’t feel like you can relate to many people or not many are going through a similar situation, an online support group means you have access to support from people who are like you, who are going through what you are going through and whom you can relate with and give support to.

How to Get the Most Out of Online Support Groups

Online support groups are an amazing resource for well-being and support. Just like with in-person support groups or other types of help, the more you put into it, the more you will get out of it.

One of the best ways to get the most out of your groups is to show up consistently if the group “meets” at specific times and days. If your support group is more of a “drop-in whenever” set-up, check in regularly. Schedule time in your day when you know you can give the group your undivided attention.

If you ask for help or feedback, stick around for the answer and try to keep an open mind. Sometimes, you might feel resistance to suggestions or feel that the feedback you are getting isn’t what you want or expect to hear. It’s okay to decide you don’t want to take someone’s suggestion, but it’s important not to immediately reject something just because it isn’t what you were looking for.

Give as much as you get. Group participation works best when everyone is involved. As much as you can, take part in group discussions, and offer support and feedback, even if it’s just to let others know they are heard.

Follow rules and guidelines. Online support groups are supposed to be safe, supportive spaces for people to come together and offer each other help, empathy, and a place to be themselves in a non-judgmental and safe environment.

Where to Find Online Support Groups

One place to start is with your mental health provider or your current physician. Their practice or organization may have their own online resources, or they may be able to refer you to one.

A good online support group is well moderated and offers some kind of structure to keep it on track. If you ever feel unsafe in an online support group, report the problem right away.