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Support groups are great. One of the standard pieces of advice when someone is facing a personal trial is “Find a guide or role model”.

Whether the challenge is personal change, dealing with loss or living with illness, it helps to know others who have been there ahead of you, navigated the difficulties, survived and grown.

This is where support groups come in. Being with a bunch of people who understand where you are can be invaluable, and supportive in itself. Shared experience can help normalise a difficult situation, reduce worry and provide reassurance. Such groups can often provide much-needed information about resources and guidance towards healing, recovery and independence.

Don’t get stuck

There is a point to be beware of though. A successful support group should be a stage on a journey, not the entire itinerary. Membership should be temporary, without ties, and non-prescriptive, allowing each person the freedom to develop and adapt to their changed circumstances in their own way at their own pace.

With time, any group starts to get fixed in its ideas and its original purpose can get covered over by a rising tide of beliefs, habits and interests. Prolonged membership risks that ’support’ turns to commiseration. When members routinely attend meetings without clear aims to share stories about troubles and concerns, it can lead to re-hashing rather than revitalising.

Groups should be self-refreshing; new members join, stay as long as they need to, and move on when the time is right for them. Becoming dependent on the group after its purpose has been served can hold people up in their own development and leads to the group becoming a mutual commiseration society rather than a support group.

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