Important information on support groups from NAMI National
Published in the NAMI Augusta Azalea, January 2010
NAMI’s programs are designed to provide people and their families who are affected by mental illness with a deeper understanding of mental illness and with strategies for living with and recovering from serious mental illness. Program participants will recognize that they are not alone, and feel empowered to advocate for better treatment and services for themselves and for family members.
NAMI programs should not be used to replace the specialized training and professional judgment of mental health professionals. We cannot, and do not, assume the role of a physician or therapist.
Self-care information, and family and peer support are valuable assets in working through the many challenges faced by individuals and families who have been touched by serious mental illness. They are complementary to, but not substitutes for, professional assistance.
Please seek immediate professional help:
if you or a family member have thoughts of suicide or of harming others,
if you or a family member are unable to provide self-care for essentials of daily living,
if you or a family member are abusing substances, and/or
If you or someone else is in danger of being harmed.
NAMI cannot be held responsible for the use of the information we provide. Always consult a trained mental health professional before making any decision regarding treatment of yourself or others.
DIFFERENCES BETWEEN PEER SUPPORT GROUPS AND THERAPY GROUPS
A support group setting is one where members can do just that – offer support and show understanding and empathy because of shared experiences. Since everyone in the group is a peer, there is no expert. There is no right or wrong. Each individual should be able to say what s/he feels and/or thinks and be accepted by the group.
Besides being able to vent in a support group, there is the opportunity to see that one’s emotions are the same as others’, not abnormal or shameful. Emotions just are. This can be liberating.
Support sessions also provide an ideal setting for problem solving. Other people’s perspectives, resourcefulness and creativity are invaluable aides when a group member is feeling stuck and needs concrete practical suggestions.
Finally, a support group is a social event. People should come away feeling they have met with old and new friends and had a pleasant experience. If a support group does nothing else, it should have provided an opportunity for connection, creating time to counteract the isolation in which many peers live.
PEER SUPPORT GROUP
To offer support through showing understanding and empathy
To share insights about similarities of experiences
To solve problems by using the combined wisdom of group members
To celebrate good times and "be there" during bad ones
To interpret behavior in the group to provide insight
To analyze relationships within the group to facilitate interpersonal change
To provide professional analysis of interactions and responses
REMEMBER: WE DO NOT DO THERAPY IN SUPPORT GROUPS!