Monday, September 23, 2013

Eldercare Resource: Support Groups Need These Things to Work

If you care for an aging parent, a support group could help.  Support groups bring people together who might not otherwise know each other, for the purpose of offering specific assistance and encouragement. Effective groups have:

1.  A purpose or purposes--Some focus solely on encouraging members to share their journey with their aging parent or loved one.  That means expressing their feelings, and discussing the direction they see themselves going. The Biblical phrase: "Rejoice with those that rejoice and weep with those who weep," describes this group. Other groups allow members to give feedback to the person who shares.  Still others have an educational thrust, offering information about aging, the disease process, and specific community resources available to caregivers.

2.  A leader who combines strength and compassion--He or she knows the group's purpose and invites participants to join in. When someone speaks too long, monopolizing the group's time, the leader gently yet firmly insists that the person stop so everyone can speak.  I've led support groups, and I know that a leader sometimes breaks the rules effectively.  When a member was suffering with fresh grief,  perhaps having just heard a difficult diagnosis, or having recently placed a parent in a nursing home, I knew they needed more of the group's time to process their feelings.

3.  Defined structure--Support groups work best when they meet at least once a month, at the same time.  Generally an hour to 1 1/2 hours works best. Depending on the group, members may want to exchange email addresses and/or phone numbers, so they can check on each other in between sessions.

You'll note I didn't require that the group leader have an advanced degree in social work.  That preparation would be nice, but effective group leaders often have backgrounds in teaching, nursing, or other types of "people work."

Do you have any experience with caregiver support groups you'd like to share?

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