Q. What are support groups and how can they help me? How do I know if they're right for me?

A.

People with cancer and their caregivers sometimes feel that other people, unless they’ve been through it themselves, don’t really understand or “get it.” Or they don’t want to burden their families or friends with their worries: Why do I feel so bad? What will happen to me?

Joining a support group is an opportunity to meet with people who are going through similar experiences and, by expressing your thoughts and feelings and sharing what you’ve learned, to feel less alone. Group members exchange valuable information and tips with one other including where to find reliable medical information, how to communicate better with their doctors, and what useful resources are available.

Support groups are usually led by professionals such as social workers and psychologists, or by trained volunteers. These leaders help the group achieve its goal of providing support to members, and can also help members individually as needed. Groups that are primarily educational in nature are often called “drop in” groups, meaning that members often change from meeting to meeting. Support groups usually require a meeting with the group leader before joining the group to make sure the group is a good fit for the individual. Most support groups run for set periods of time of approximately 8 – 12 weeks. Although the majority of groups meet face-to-face, there are also telephone and online groups available.

Are support groups for everyone? No – some people are too vulnerable to the strong emotions that can be expressed in a group, while others are simply not comfortable expressing themselves in front of other people. But if you’re feeling alone and needing information and emotional support, a group might be a valuable way of connecting with people to help you cope with your situation.

And if a support group is not a good fit, you may consider individual counseling.