, Gloucester, MA

March 8, 2013

The healing power of support groups

Personal Matters
Susan Britt

---- — Whether you’re struggling to recover from a broken marriage, conquer an addiction, manage anxiety, or cope with another devastating trauma, you might benefit by gathering with others who are currently coping with, or who have survived similar struggles.

Support groups exist in many venues relative to many issues, offering empathy, hope and coping strategies for many human challenges. Their most obvious advantage in the healing process is the powerful evidence of their members, that you are not alone. Whatever the source of your pain and fear, someone else has been there, and suffered similarly. Group members voluntarily share experiences and information. They risk revealing their own vulnerabilities to help others like themselves.

Above all, the groups provide support in a non-threatening, safe setting, encouraging uncensored expression of feelings and fears. In most groups, members pledge not to reveal what they hear, learn to listen compassionately, and respond honestly, kindly, and with unconditional acceptance.

The oldest organized support group, one of the most successful, and certainly the most copied, is Alcoholics Anonymous’s Twelve Step Program. It has been adapted for use by groups treating just about every addiction or emotional problem in the human catalog. Its unique secret may be its focus on members’ achieving personal growth, maturity and integrity through some sort of spiritual awakening.

Much AA language, which other groups often borrow, sounds traditionally religious and can put some people off. However, “spiritual awakening” does not always mean a “born again” religious conversion. It refers to a growth in knowledge and understanding of oneself and others, and life as people live it, day by day. It refers to a newfound ability to let go of resentment and anger, or the need to control others. It signifies a willingness to change, to take responsibility for healing oneself, to replace old habits of blame and shame with generous empathy or loving detachment.

Many therapists and mental health agencies facilitate or lead support groups which can be a valuable supplement to other professional therapies. Your doctor or therapist can recommend groups in your area, and this paper lists meeting times and places for a number of them.

Based in Rockport, life coach and psychotherapist Susan Britt, M.Ed., a former university director of counseling and career services, teaches individuals, couples, and families to resolve relationship conflicts, clarify and achieve life and career goals, and accelerate personal growth. Questions and comments may be addressed to her at or 978-546-9431.