You might be asking yourself as you view your very hectic life as the parent of a special needs child, “Why in the world should I find time for a Support Group meeting”? I get that, but I’ve also seen the incredible way a support group meeting can change the perspective of parents, just like you. Here are a few thoughts about why attending a support group meeting might be precisely what you need, right now.
1) Realizing you are not alone
It’s interesting to hear people describe their first support group meeting. They will often say, “You know, until I went to the group, I thought I was the only person in the world with my problem. I was so surprised to find that everyone in the group had the same issues as me.” This realization usually brings about a feeling of relief, by gaining the understanding for perhaps the very first time in their life that others have similar concerns and are there to help and encourage you.
2) Expressing your feelings
After you realize you aren’t alone and within a safe and supportive environment, you will begin to feel comfortable sharing your feelings and life circumstances with the group. This can be a very therapeutic and healing experience, particularly as you find that others in the group will listen nonjudgmentally and will praise you for your openness and courage.
3) Learning helpful information
Support groups offer lots of practical tips and resources for dealing with identified concerns, and members share their success stories and the strategies that helped them move forward in their recovery. Some groups focus on learning and practicing specific coping skills. Many groups will also provide recommendations for useful books and websites for additional study apart from the group meetings.
4) Improved social skills
By meeting and talking with other group members, you also have a chance to practice social skills and interact more effectively with others. Often, having a special needs child has contributed to withdrawal from social situations. Support groups provide a safe place to become comfortable around others once more.
5) Gaining hope
It’s very powerful when you see others in the group who are further along their parenting journey and who have made great strides toward having happier and healthier lives. These positive role models show you that while you will face challenges, a manageable life is, in fact, attainable, which brings renewed hope for the future.
6) Reducing distress
As you work through various issues and concerns in the group, it’s common that you will begin to notice a reduced level of overall distress and discomfort. This is a positive sign that progress is being made and that you are feeling better.
7) Increased self-understanding
As you learn more effective ways to cope and handle stressful situations, you gain better understanding of yourself, your needs and your own unique personality. You can also gain increased insight into the factors that have contributed to your current challenges and the strategies that seem to work best to help you move toward your goals and those of your family.
8) Helping others
Just as you benefit from the group experience, you can also help other group members as you grow and make progress. Others will be affected positively by hearing about your successes and by your kind and caring demeanor. You will also notice you feel better when you can help someone else.
One additional advantage of support groups is they are very affordable. In fact, most groups are free, and all will typically be cheaper than individual therapy sessions. All of our BPI groups are at no cost, and we even provide snacks.
If you haven’t yet participated in a support group, consider giving one a try. We have groups available in all of our regions, and they are offered at a regular time each month and week. Commit to attending at least a few meetings. It sometimes takes a little bit to feel comfortable. But that is part of the process.
Once you’ve determined the group is a good fit for you, attend regularly. Soak up information and learn effective coping strategies from other members who are doing well. When you feel the time is right, share your story, your challenges, your fears, and your successes. Support other group members with encouragement, validation, and a pat on the back for making progress toward their goals.
I hope you will consider attending a support group, even if it’s not one of ours. If you need any help with those resources, please drop us a line. We are here to help in any way we can.