Optimize Your Experience Creating or Joining a Chronic Pain Support Group

By: Loolwa Khazzoom, Founder, Dancing with Pain

April 22nd, 2010 • Living with Chronic PainPrint Print

Following is an interview with Jane Avery, a member of the Chronic Pain Support Group of Southern Maine.

What are the purpose and benefits of a chronic pain support group?
A chronic pain support group should be a safe place where folks with all kinds of chronic pain receive compassion and understanding.  It should be a place where the focus is positive and encouraging.  A support group is also a good source of information through speakers, a website, and networking with national leaders. 

What resources does your chronic pain support group offer?
This group has been in existence for almost 20 years.  The resources we offer are sharing of knowledge and tips for living a productive life that accepts the ongoing experience of chronic pain.

How can a support group change the life of someone in pain?
One very significant outcome is the realization that you are not alone in your journey with chronic pain.  We share; we laugh; we grow together as a group of friends, in a caring relationship that does not focus on our pain. We acknowledge that it is part of our lives, but we help each other to move forward – changing what we can change and learning to accept what is now a permanent part of our “new selves.”  Being part of a support group also provides a safe place to deal with the anger the often follows the diagnosis of a chronic pain problem. 

What are the elements of a successful support group?
A successful group is one where everyone shares in the growth we see in ourselves and in other members of the group. Any support group needs to always focus on the positive.  Because our group covers a broad range of chronic pain causes and diagnoses, we do not focus on any one of these, but rather, our focus is always on learning to manage the pain issues in positive ways. 

What are pitfalls to avoid in a support group?
The group needs to have a designated facilitator for each meeting.  That person needs to ensure that everyone who wishes to enter the conversation be given the courteous opportunity to do so. They should also be certain that no one person or issue dominates the meeting.

What tips for overcoming fear of a chronic pain support group?
We have had good success in getting flyers out into the community and running announcements in local newspapers, telling about the group and giving the numbers of contact people for more information.  We understand that the first visit to any group is difficult, and this phone contact breaks the ice. 

A new person is greeted by someone they have spoken with before, so the new person feels welcome. The first visit to anything new is always a major step, particularly when it comes to sharing personal things about ourselves.  We also reach out to the local medical community, and they will make referrals to our group. 

How does a support group affect feelings of isolation?
Once people have joined a group, they have begun a relationship that can be ongoing, as their situation changes.  Friends are made and relationships are built that carry through those times of isolation and depression. A support group also provides knowledge about management tools and skills that can be used when people are not able to attend the meetings.

What are tips for identifying support needs around pain?
Our group brings in a variety of speakers who educate us about various resources and support tools available and offer guidance about the process needed to access these services.  Identifying and accepting a need is the first step. Only then can folks move through the process of finding ways to solve that need.

When is it is time to move on from a support group?
For individuals, a support group may no longer be a priority as circumstances change, and they move on in their lives. For the group, I guess the time to move on is when the numbers drop down, the leaders move on themselves, or there is no longer a feeling that the mission of the group is being met.

Jane Avery is , also known as The Wellness Lady, is a mentor, writer, and network marketer. Find out more about her work at Best Mentoring Info. She is an active member of the Chronic Pain Support Group of Southern Maine, which is a terrific resource for people looking to start or join a support group. 

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