Counseling and Support Groups (Cont)

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What if I'm worried that a group will be too depressing?

Some people are more comfortable in groups than others. It may be easy to imagine sharing your feelings with others or it could seem like a real assault on your privacy. There are few "rights or wrongs" about how people feel about participating in a group. Some people find them very useful at the point of diagnosis or changes in treatment. Patients with more experience with cancer can help new patients know what to expect and avoid troublesome situations. If you don't know if a group is right for you, we will try to help you figure that out.

Sometimes people don't want to attend a support group because they think that it will be "too depressing" to listen to other peoples' problems. This does happen occasionally but for the most part, patients are very good at helping a discouraged group member feel better. Everyone has down times - the trick is to figure out how to stop the negative thinking from taking over. It's all too easy to imagine the worst. Other patients have "been there" and can offer the kind of encouragement and even 'inspiration' to keep fighting when times are tough. Sometimes new group members are surprised at how much humor is expressed in a support group. Finding something funny in a situation is a very good way of moving past a difficult time.

It may take time to determine how much of yourself to share with others. Some group members will be very talkative while others learn better just by listening. Usually, group members will gradually feel more comfortable in discussing their concerns and will get satisfaction from helping others in the group.

Does everyone benefit from attending a support group?

Sometimes patients will experience pressure from family or friends about attending a support group. This happens because people often don't feel comfortable talking about cancer. They think that they have to say something to "fix" the problem or to help you to feel better, when really they just need to listen. The nature of your needs should help you decide whether to try a support group. Some needs lend themselves to being addressed in a support group. Examples are the need for information, such as how children typically react to a parent's diagnosis, how to explain your diagnosis at work, or how to communicate better with your doctor. Other problems, such as severe marital or emotional problems, may seem too "private" or complicated to share with others.

The intensity of your feelings about a situation will also help you to decide about attending a group. You may feel so upset about your situation that the idea of discussing it with others makes it worse. Your own distress may make it impossible to listen to the problems of others. In this kind of situation, an individual counselor can concentrate on you and help you to feel better more quickly. Once you feel less anxious or overwhelmed, you may be in a better position to benefit from a support group.

Occasionally, people dealing with serious medical problems get so desperate that they think about suicide. This is not a usual response to having cancer but can happen to people who may have other stresses in their lives in addition to the cancer. Sometimes people can feel so hopeless that they can't imagine how the situation will ever get better. If this is how you or a family member is feeling, you need immediate help. This is not the kind of situation that joining a support group will help. A psychiatrist should be consulted who can evaluate how serious the situation is the severity of the situation and prescribe medications if necessary.