Support Groups – A Complete Guide To Finding The Right Support Group

Curious about support groups? Interested in what actually takes place during a support group? Interested in what makes a good support group? You’ve come to the right place!

For over 10 years, we’ve been running men’s groups that have helped thousands of guys all over the world. We’ve seen men drastically change their lives for the better from being a part of these meetings

A lot of people are confused about what a support group is and how it works. So let’s get to answering all your support groups questions:

Sean Galla

Written by

Sean Galla

An experienced facilitator, community builder and Peer Support Specialist, Sean has been running men's groups for 10+ years. Read Sean's Full Author Bio.

What is a support group?

A support group is a group of people who are interested in self-improvement and providing empathy, perspective and guidance to each other who are facing something challenging in their lives. Instead of meeting one-on-one with a therapist or counsellor to chat, you will have a group that will listen and support you with whatever you are going through. 

Whether you are dealing with divorce, being a better dad, caring for your loved ones, or just want to better your life in some way, a support group can help.

What to expect from support groups?

What to expect depends on what kind of support group you join. A lot of guys will just use a support group list like mental health national’s list of best support groups. They’ll join whatever comes up first. Or they’ll just go out and learn how to start a support group. But there are a lot of differences in men’s groups and it will benefit you to know what to expect. 

Support groups typically meet once or twice a week for about an hour or two. If they are too much of a commitment for group members, it most likely won’t be as effective. Remember in university when you sat through a lecture that was more than an hour? Most people were daydreaming and the professor lost student’s interests. This is similar for support groups if they are too long or too frequent, people are going to lose interest. 

Support groups can be in-person or virtual. If they are in-person, you can expect to sit in a circle and everyone in the group will get a chance to speak their mind. The group facilitator will generate topics beforehand to keep the conversation of the group flowing. If you are joining an online support group, it will be similar but you’ll meet on a device from the comfort of your own home. Everyone in the group will get the chance to share.

Support group benefits?

We’ve been running support groups for the last 10 years and have seen men get tremendous benefit. And it’s not just us, the best support group lists like ADAA support group list, Very Well Mind find a support group listing and good therapy support groups list all suggest the same. 

Here a list of the top 5 support group benefits that we’ve witnessed and what makes a good support group:

Not going through hardships alone

Let’s face it, it’s way easier to get through something with support from a group instead of tackling it on your own. A supportive group gives you ideas from multiple people on how to get through this challenging time you are facing.When joining a support group, you will hear perspectives on how to face your challenge from numerous people.This is helpful in breaking down what needs to happen to reach your goals. 

Now depending on your personality type, you may prefer to process and find your way alone, but most people don’t. You can get more info on your personality type here.

Getting feedback from others

Not only are support groups about yourself, but it is also about listening to other men’s similar situations and helping them. Emotional support can be all that’s needed. Sometimes getting out of your own head and helping someone else can feel good. You will listen to other people’s challenges and then you’ll discuss with the group if you have gone through something similar. And your group members will do the same for you.

It is affordable

Therapists and mental health professionals can cost hundreds of dollars ($150+) per session. We highly recommend professional counselling when appropriate (consult your doctor to see if it’s the right fit for you) and therapists and social workers deserve their compensation. That being said, support groups are often way less expensive. For multiple meetings each month you’ll pay a fraction of what you would for one meeting with a counsellor. This makes support groups accessible to many more people on an ongoing basis.

Keeps you motivated

Being involved in a support group can help you reach your goals. Who wants to come to the next meeting saying you didn’t take action towards your goals? Most likely no one in the group. You’ll create relationships with other people that will want to hear about the success you had over the week. This will make it easier to get things done than trying to stay motivated on your own. Types of support groups?

There are numerous support groups out there. You’d be surprised by how many people are dealing with the same challenges as you are. Here are some of the most common support groups out there:

  • General self-improvement groups
  • Alcohol and/or drug addiction support groups (AA – alcoholics anonymous is well known in that field)
  • Divorce support groups
  • Depression and anxiety support groups
  • Grief of family members support groups
  • Parenting support groups
  • Infidelity support groups 
  • Mental health/mental illness (i.e bipolar disorders, alzheimer’s etc) help 
  • Weight loss help support groups
  • Binge eating and eating disorder support groups
  • Pet loss coping help
  • Cancer and other diseases support groups
  • STD coping support groups
  • Anger management support groups
  • Sexless marriage support groups
  • Support groups for coping with PTSD

Basically, anything that you are going through, there is most likely a support group out there with members who can relate to your situation and will welcome you with open arms. Groups for clinical trials support are another example. And there are in-person support groups and virtual support groups. Let’s have a chat about online support groups:

support group

*Benefits taken from support group studies listed at the bottom of this in our sources section

Common supportive group topics

In our groups, we typically see the same regular support group topics come up over and over again. Obviously this will differ depending on the type of support group, but a few key discussion topics and themes rise to the surface.  Some topics you could expect being asked in your support group could be about:

  • Relationship conflicts
  • Divorce
  • Mental illness
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Communication issues
  • Substance abuse
  • Financial challenges
  • Past personal emotional traumas
  • Family history
  • Health conditions and nutrition
  • Disease: cancer etc.
  • Sexual health
  • Career

Online group support benefits

Convenience

Online support groups can be accessed from anyone who has internet access and some way to video chat. This can be helpful for people that can’t travel. Instead of making a huge commitment to go somewhere, you can converse from the comfort of your own home. Telemedicine is becoming popular for a reason, and online support groups are in the same boat. The accessibility of online support groups is what makes them so appealing!.

Feels more anonymous 

Social anxiety sucks. We most likely have all faced it one way or another in our lives. With having all eyes on you, it can be hard to open up. Being online gives you more of a private feel to the group. You’re in your home, maybe you have sweatpants on (no one is judging) and you can mute yourself and tell the group that you are needing a break.

More confidential

With an online support group, there are no awkward run-ins with your group members who could let the cat out of the bag in front of your friends that you’re part of a support group. You can share knowledge knowing that your sensitive conversations with your online community will not be shared with people in your physical community. 

24/7 Availability

Usually, online support groups offer a discussion area that is open 24/7 in the same way as helplines. This can be beneficial if members are going through something and need support right then and there instead of waiting for the next session. You can post a question and get quick support and answers. 

Support groups vs. group therapy? 

A lot of people think that support groups and group therapy are the same. They’re not. There are a few subtle but crucial differences. 

Support Groups

The purpose of a support group is to help each other get through hardships. It’s wisdom sharing between group members in an attempt to help each other grow. 

Group Therapy 

Therapy groups serve a different purpose than support groups. The point of group therapy is to work through emotional and psychological issues, often with a healthcare provider i.e professional counsellor, therapist, social worker or psychologist. Individuals with conditions such as PTSD will attend group therapy meetings with others facing similar challenges and will try to process the traumas that are leading to unhealthy behaviours as part of their treatment options. 

a support group

Potential downsides of support groups?

Support groups are not for everyone. You might be a bit nervous going into a support group, but that doesn’t mean it’s not for you. Being nervous can be a sign of potential growth. On the other hand, maybe you’re just not ready to share with a group, and that is totally fine! 

Maybe you live in a small community and you’re nervous that the word is going to get out that you have an alcohol addiction. That is totally understandable to be worried about that, but just know that these support groups are 100% confidential. People in these support groups are not out to get you, they are there to support you and also get through something they are battling. 

The only real downside to a supportive group of peers is that you might waste a bit of time. Some support groups won’t be right for you and that’s okay. Don’t feel pressured to stay if you’ve gone to multiple meetings on different online communities and haven’t been engaged or feeling any sort of push to achieving your goals. Trial and error will be helpful with finding the best support group for you. It’s like a clinical trial. Just get out there and join a few support groups. 

Make sure you protect yourself and make sure you are paying into something that is legitimate. 

Some red flags to watch out for: 

  • Members or the facilitator judging you on your actions or decisions  
  • Members or the facilitator disrupting other members or yourself while speaking
  • Pressure to purchase products and/or services 
  • Having the support group facilitator do all the talking
  • Too much ceremony or support group exercises because they often times aren’t relevant enough for everyone in the support group

How to start a support group?

You could wing it and get a support group together, not plan much and see what happens. It’s a risky option so we recommend these steps to make sure you learn how to start a support group:

Step 1- Nominate a facilitator

Make sure you have someone in the group (it could be yourself or someone else) that wants to take charge and lead the group. It might be confusing for members to not know who to report to if there is not a facilitator. 

A great group leader will:

  • Come up with a game plan for each group meeting
  • Possibly take notes during the meetings
  • Will set up when the next group session will take place
  • And whatever else is needed to make the group discussions go smoothly

Step 2- Find a meeting space

Finding a space for support groups might be easier said than done. This space needs to be in an area that will not be heard by others, a reasonable price (or free if possible) and a safe space for everyone to feel comfortable sharing their thoughts. 

If you are wanting to start an online support group, the facilitator will need to provide everyone with a platform on which they all can communicate on (most groups these days use Zoom or Google Hangouts). This should be set up in advance and easy for everyone to connect to. 

Step 3- Develop group agreements

Developing ground rules or agreements for the group will help set boundaries and keep order during the support group. 

Some examples of group agreements:

  • Confidentially is key. What people say in the room, stays in the room.
  • Be respectful. No interrupting members or facilitators while they are speaking.
  • Be on time. Life happens, if your computer crashes or your car won’t start, it’s okay. Just try your best to be on time. 
  • Turn off your phone (or at least silence it). How disappointing does it feel when someone takes a phone call in the middle of you talking? Be respectful and turn off your phone. You are most likely only in the meeting for about an hour or so. 

The list of group agreements vary from group to group. Some groups might have their rules a bit looser and some might be more strict. Regardless of what they are, enforcing them will help tremendously. 

Step 4- Build group momentum

Be organized and keep the support group going. If you’re needing to end your time as the group facilitator for whatever reason, find a new one that can take over your place. Group members who have dedicated their time to your support group won’t be thrilled to get an email the night before saying that you don’t have time to keep running the groups. 

best list of support groups in

Where can I find the best support group?

If you’re looking for a support group, you’re in luck! There are countless support groups out there. Psychology today’s list of support groups is a decent resource to help you find local support groups in your area. 

If you’re looking for a mental health support group in British Columbia (where our headquarters are) you can call the Mental Health Support Line at 310-6789 (it asked to not include an area code). 

If you’re looking for an online men’s support group, we have you covered! MensGroup provides support groups at a low monthly rate. If you’re wanting to see if our support groups are a good fit for you, feel free to sign up for our newsletter and join in on one of our meetings. No pressure or commitment!

Your doctor can also help you find the support group that is best for you. Let’s say you’re wanting to join a support group that focuses on anxiety, chat with your doctor about it and they can refer you to an anxiety help support group. Doctors usually have connections with things like this. Basically, don’t be afraid to chat with your doc.

In conclusion

Support groups are an effective way to tackle challenges and continue your personal growth. Getting through something alone can be way more challenging than getting through something with a team. Luckily, These groups often do not cost a lot of money and are often not very time-consuming. But they are very effective and can change your life.

Whether you know someone wanting a support group, or you are looking for one, our advice is to go out and try a few. It can be intimidating at first, but we guarantee that a support group will help you grow. If you have any questions on support groups, send us a message. We would be happy to help!

*Article Sources: 
1. Support group study - The Mayo Clinic
2. Creating and Facilitating Peer Support Groups 
3. Benefits of peer support groups - US National Library Of Medicine
4. Social Exchange in Self-Help Support Groups - US Library Of Medicine 
5. Support Groups & Research Studies - National Disorder Organization
6. The effectiveness of support groups - University of Wollongong
7. The effectiveness of support groups: a literature review
8. Choosing a support group - Here To Help BC
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