Everything You Need to Know About Disability Support Groups

Disability support groups provide a place for people to talk about their experiences with others who have the same or similar conditions. Some support groups exist solely for individuals who have a particular condition, while others invite family, friends, and caregivers to meetings. Finding a group where you feel safe and supported with people you can trust can take some time, but the valuable relationships that are formed as a result make it completely worth it.

Man in a wheelchair at a support group
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If you have never been part of a support group and are interested in joining one, here are a few things you should know.

Why Join a Support Group?

Choosing to belong to a support group can help alleviate stress and give you a better sense of well-being. If you’ve been feeling like no one understands the emotional or physical pain that you may be going through, a support group can help. In addition, encouraging a spouse, friend or caregiver to attend meetings with you may give them a better sense of what living with your particular disability is really like.

Support Group Basics

There are different types of support groups for people with disabilities. Some groups provide support for a specific disease or condition (e.g. traumatic brain injury, cancer, autism, etc.), while others invite members of the community with any disability to join.

Online support groups connect people who live in rural areas or can't travel, and host chat or video meetings. Virtual support group meetings allow members to interact face-to-face over the Internet. All you need is an Internet connection and a webcam.

Support groups generally have an open-door policy for those who wish to join. Most people who join a support group hear about it through a physician, caregiver, or an advocacy group. Groups may meet once a week, once a month or at any other time that works for the members and the person who organizes the group.

Regular attendance is not required to be in a support group. Some individuals find that they only need to attend meetings when they are experiencing a problem, while others may attend more frequently because they enjoy the company of the other members.

Where to Find a Support Group

Talk to your physician to find out where support groups are meeting near you. Many support groups for various disabilities are held at local hospitals. Other good places to look for support groups include organizations that advocate for a specific disability, local newspapers and bulletin boards at churches, libraries or the post office.

Who Runs a Support Group

Support groups are run by individuals who either have a specific disease or condition or have experience as a counselor who has worked with these individuals. The person who heads up the support group helps to guide discussions and can offer advice and guidance if a member needs additional support services.

What to Expect at Your First Meeting

When you go to a support group you will be introduced to the person who runs the group to the other members. You won't be expected to bare your soul at the first meeting, nor at any subsequent meeting. It is okay to just sit and listen to others and share information or experiences only when you feel comfortable doing so.

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By Charlotte Gerber
Charlotte Gerber is a disability writer and advocate. She has made a career of educating the public about various diseases and disabilities.