What Makes For A Good Online Support Group Experience?

Black and white view of chairs aligned in a circle with a tablet laid down on chair in foreground.jpgA good support group online doesn’t have to feel impersonal. In fact, with the right video conferencing technology, it can feel like quite the opposite. Even in an online setting, the benefits of support groups are aplenty, and when properly structured can be a source of healing, community, and informative transmission.

So what are support groups and what makes a good support group stand out from the rest? An online support group is meant to be an outlet that unites people who are going through the same thing in a virtual setting to swap stories, share words of encouragement, provide comfort, and dole out advice. It can be led by an expert facilitator or by someone who has been through the ordeal themselves.

It can tricky to navigate and find a group that works for you, so before making a decision, here are a few “Dos and Don’ts” to help you get the most out of your experience:

1. Do Stay For What You Need; Do Leave When It Becomes Irrelevant

View of person from the neck down, wearing a mustard-colored sweater, sitting at a desk typing and interacting with a laptopNot everything that you come across in an online support group will apply to you. It’s okay to notice that some stories, treatments, advice, and support may not apply to you or your specific situation. You’ll notice that there will be things you agree with and other things you don’t. What’s important is that you’re able to sift through the information that applies to you and cut out the info that isn’t necessary.

Before joining a support group online, spend some time assessing where you are on your healing journey. Are you at the beginning and looking for support and first-hand experience from others? Are you a little more grounded in your journey looking for specific treatments or details? Having an intention before committing to an online support group will help you get the most out of the community and position you as a contributing community member. Knowing what you came here for will set the tone for an all-around positive experience for everyone.

2. Do Have Some Expectations

Know that an online support group isn’t a cure-all for your condition. Especially online, it can feel two-dimensional, but that can also be an advantage! A support group held in a virtual space is the second best thing to being in person, so as long as this is at your top-of-mind awareness going in, you can adjust your expectations accordingly.

Also, support groups tend to be very diverse. They are a reflection of all kinds of people going through all varying levels of the same experience. Some participants might have a more complex story while others are going through it more linearly. It’s important to keep in mind that while everyone is in the same boat, everyone processes experiences differently. An online support group is a great way to gather information from a cross-section of people.

Given that connections are virtual, online support groups are excellent for social and emotional support regardless of location. By establishing personal expectations, it becomes easier to co-create connections and support in a healthy and effective way.

3. Don’t Give Away All Your Personal Details

In order to co-create a good support group that’s healthy and effective, being forthcoming and sharing personal experiences seems obvious. This is true, however, sharing specific details like your full name, address, place of work, etc., can hinder more than it can help. Just remember to pick and choose what you say in an online public space.

After all, this is an environment that is conducive to sharing deep feelings, vulnerabilities, concerns, and stories. It’s when details become personally-identifying that problems could arise. Of course, an online support group is a safe space, but just like you wouldn’t put your phone number in a forum, it’s best to not give away too much personal information here either.

DO share: Doctors’ names, feelings about your condition, types of treatments, your nickname, your city, etc.

DON’T share: Exactly where you live, your full name, precise location, health insurance numbers, etc.

4. Do Be Respectful Of Group Members

Support groups online are an opportunity to get a first-hand understanding and deeper experience of what other people are going through regarding the same predicament or condition. While it might seem obvious that creating a space that prioritizes safety, comfort, and respect is first and foremost, it’s not totally out of the norm for people to behave in less than ideal ways.

It’s perfectly normal and ok to disagree with another participant’s advice or opinion, but it’s advised to not make it personal or lash out. When faced with an audible comment or message in the text chat that doesn’t sit with you or can be understood as inflammatory or offensive, try taking a pregnant pause before responding. Moderator controls can work to dissuade unnecessary comments and direct conversation by muting or enabling/disabling Speaker Spotlight.

Help to avoid and prevent the clashing of personalities by handing out a guide outlining non-violent communication, creating conversational outlines or a guidebook to online video conferencing etiquette in a group setting.

5. Don’t Respond Without Being Thoughtful First

Remember, emotions can run high when people are discussing a sensitive topic matter. Someone’s personal experience can have a triggering effect on the other participants present. Encourage a group setting where people are mindful about what they say and how they share.

Using first-person instead of accusatory statements or acknowledging and giving validation to other people’s feelings before sharing a rebuttal is the difference between hosting a good support group and just a support group. When everyone can feel seen and heard, chances are the energy will lend itself to be more healing rather than destructive.

If things are getting heated, let people know that it’s ok to share emotions and feelings in a way that moves the conversation forward. Segues like, “I see your frustration, have you tried looking at it from this way?” or “I can see how that makes you upset, from my experience….”

Also, try running your next thought, opinion or piece of advice through these three filters to see if it adds or takes away from the topic at hand. Is what you have to say:

  • True? (How factual is it?)
  • Necessary? (Does it help move the conversation in a good direction or cause agitation and talking in circles?)
  • Constructive? (Is it kind or cruel? Does your share benefit anyone?)

Keep these on hand for a more mindful, progressive support group that flourishes online.

(alt-tag: Black and white view of person sitting with laptop on lap, using one hand to navigate and the other in the foreground resting)

6. Do Take Everything You Read And Hear Objectively

Black and white view of person sitting with laptop on lap, using one hand to navigate and the other in the foreground restingWhile these groups are mainly for social support and community, it’s not uncommon for participants to share professional information. In fact, a good online support group might be a treasure trove of information. Thanks to technology, an online support group is a wonderful way to touch base with other people from around the world to get a fully informed and vetted opinion or a second opinion about cure, treatments, therapies, and more.

The potential problem with this, however, is that you are opening up the floodgates to misinformation that may be detrimental. Stay alert and stay informed by treating everyone’s personal experience and their own tools for recovery as educational. Think of it as a nudge in the “right” direction until you’re able to fact-check and make an informed decision about what works for you. Ask for follow-up details, and do your own research online, comparing and contrasting notes so you can take this information and see how you can create your own path towards healing and support.

7. Do Open Yourself Up

Opening yourself up to strangers online can feel a little daunting and uncomfortable at first. Seeing a screen full of thumbnails of other people in real-time might be jarring when you’re first starting out. But as you gain confidence, learning which buttons enable Speaker Spotlight and Screen Sharing, you’ll begin to notice that participating in an online support group from the comfort of your own home has its perks! Not only are you actively helping yourself to heal and seek guidance, but you can also do it in a way that is accessible, comfortable, and just as effective as doing it in person. Some of the perks include:

  • Learn More – Faster
    An online support group puts you in the middle of your condition to face it head-on. It’s ultimately a learning space for you to get better acquainted with healthier patterns, coping mechanisms, further reading, and so much more.
  • Group Connection From Any Location
    You can join from anywhere with instant access at your fingertips. Remote or urban, you’re connected to people from all over the planet, giving you a more well-rounded understanding of your condition.
  • Save Time and Money
    Save more time when you can hop into a session from home in your pajamas! Spend less money traveling and commuting when you choose to use free video conferencing software.

With FreeConference.com, you can receive the guidance and help you need in a support group that uplifts you and meets you where you are. Using modern, browser-free technology and features like Screen Sharing, SMS Invites and Text Chat to stay connected, you can feel like you belong no matter what you’ve been through. Ready to start for FREE?

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