Anxiety support groups, or anxiety self help groups, can be a valuable part of your recovery, and I encourage you to find one. It's not an an "either/or" choice between self-help and professional help. Both can be helpful!
The help you get in a support group comes mainly from your interaction with the other members. The strength of the group comes from the members' personal experiences with anxiety, rather than from professional training. This doesn't mean that the group can't be professionally led, but that the main direction comes from the members, rather than the leadership.
There are several nonprofit organizations which maintain listings of anxiety support groups around the country. Start by looking at the listing hosted by the Anxiety & Depression Association of America. The Obsessive Compulsive Foundation has an international listing on their website. (In the Chicago area, also check OCD Chicago). If you're looking for a Trichotillomania (compulsive hair pulling) group, check with the Trichotillomania Learning Center.
If you can't find a group in your area, you might want to consider starting one yourself. All the organizations mentioned above have helpful information to share about starting a support group.
If possible, call the contact person before you attend, to get additional information about the group. Questions to ask include:
* what happens in a typical meeting?
* are spouses and support people welcome to attend?
* is there a fee and, if so, how much?
* is it OK to just observe without participating the first time?
Making advance contact with the group will probably make your first arrival there a little more comfortable, because you'll have already "met" one member, and you'll have a better idea of what to expect.
On the other hand, if you have phone phobia, and avoid talking to people on the phone, disregard this advice for now. You can get to that problem later.
Following are some of the important qualities of a good support group.
* All members share a common problem.
* Information and education is part of the group process.
* The group promotes a goal focused approach, and encourages members to discuss their specific goals each week.
* The group is supportive and respectful of member needs, but does not have overly protective rules, i.e., forbidding mention of symptoms.
* Complaining and sharing of misery is kept to a minimum.
* The group maintains an open mind toward the treatment choices of its members, and does not attempt to replace or replicate professional treatment
* The group is run for the benefit of members, and not as a source of clients for a particular therapist or agency.
* Confidentiality is protected and respected.
* The group maintains an "open door" policy which makes it easy for people to join or leave the group.
* Only one person talks at a time. No one dominates the discussion.
* Fees are low, and exist only to support the cost of group meetings and educational materials.
Consider the following points when visiting a group.
* Does the group make new members and visitors feel welcome?
* Would I be comfortable sharing my struggles with these people? Can they help me? Can I help them?
* Are meetings held at a time and place reasonably convenient for me to attend?
* Is there helpful give-and-take in the group? Does the group give everyone a chance to participate without getting bogged down on just one or two individuals?
* Are people actually making progress as a result of their participation in the group?
* Do members set goals for themselves, and achieve them?
* Do group members refrain from offering each other advice about medications (leaving that to the prescribing doctor) and instead focus on what they can do for themselves?
* Does the group provide current, reputable information about anxiety disorders from established sources?
Do you lead an anxiety support group? Would you like some free help in getting the word out? Post a notice about your group here!
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Last updated on August 5, 2014