What Is a Support Group? - Definition & Types

Instructor: Vidhi Desai
You may have heard of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD). These are popular, nationally-recognized support groups. There are many types and benefits to support groups - find out more in this lesson.

Support Group
Support group

What Is a Support Group?

A support group is a meeting of members who provide help and companionship to one another. Support groups are comprised of others who have been through the issue at hand. For example, Alcoholics Anonymous is made up of recovering or recovered alcoholics. Due to the nature of these groups, people feel more comfortable sharing their experiences and getting their feelings out in the open. With others who have experienced similar situations, people generally feel less isolated when sharing their experiences. Support groups are also called group therapy.

Types of Support Groups

Member-only/self-help/peer support groups

  • These support groups are organized and managed by members only. There are no professionals who facilitate the group aside from the members. This can help people feel comfortable because everyone there has some experience with the issue at hand. It can decrease embarrassment.

Professionally-facilitated support groups

  • These support groups are organized and facilitated by professionals who do not share the members' problems. These professionals can be mental health practitioners, psychologists, social workers, religious officials, and more. These groups are common in hospitals or other institutions such as jails. A benefit of this type of group is that a third-party person manages the flow of the group, including helping set standards and rules. Examples of rules may be taking turns to talk and avoiding criticism or degradation of others' experiences.

Online support groups

  • This is the newest type of support group. These can be in the form of chat rooms, e-mails, or forums. A benefit of this type of support group is the anonymity - members don't have to show their faces, and they can get anonymous feedback. This reduces embarrassment. Challenges with this type of support group are that they can be unmonitored or have misinformed leaders. Members can openly discuss if they believe another's stories or not, which can be hurtful. There may be name-calling or accusations of lying. If unsecure, anyone can join, people who share the issue or not. According to Joseph Walther and Shawn Boyd's study on online support groups, it seems that they are associated with the most challenges out of the three types of support groups.

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