What You Need to Know When You Attend Your First Support Group

June 15, 2015

“I walked into group knowing I needed to feel not so alone, but not sure that group was what I wanted.  The first person I saw asked me how I was…I knew she really wanted to know and so I told her.”  - CSC Group Participant

Stepping into a group for the first time is both brave and humble. As a new group member, you are coming to hold the feelings and experiences of your group members, while also letting them hold your feelings and story.  It’s normal to feel anxiety about what to expect, but people are often surprised at how comfortable they feel even if they never saw themselves as a “support group” kind of person. Hearing the stories of others who get it from the inside out can be a validating and reassuring experience.

It is not uncommon to take a little a bit of time to warm up to group. We recommend group members attend at least three sessions in order to get a feel for the “energy” of the group. Support groups work best when members are open about their concerns, even the concern that attending group does not appear to be helping– but you have a right to be cautious while you get your bearings, and it’s important that you feel safe before you share information and feelings. People who are willing to share their experiences, thoughts and feelings tend to receive a greater benefit from group than those who do not. The support group can be a place where you do not have to pretend, hold back or feel you have to protect others from your fears and anxieties. Participate actively in your group but at your own pace. Warming up to new people can take time. If simply getting their Support groups through the Cancer Support Community’s Affiliate Network are facilitated by a licensed, clinical, professional therapist. The Cancer Support Community group facilitators will provide structure and a safe, compassionate environment in which group members can connect with one another in productive and meaningful ways. The facilitator will share in the discussions as appropriate and include some of their personal views, feelings and concerns. However, each individual is considered the expert on his or her cancer experience. You know about your life and what to do with it more than anyone else; the facilitator and your fellow group members are there to help you look at the issues, ask the hard questions and make the difficult decisions—not to make them for you.

Even when looking for support, support groups are not for everyone. If after participating in a support group for three visits you decide the group is not the right place to get your support, there are a variety of other programs for people affected by cancer to connect with others at CSC’s and elsewhere. Whether in a group, education program, pot-luck, or book club, it is important to find a person who asks “how are you” and is ready to listen.