Health Online Self Help Groups
by Patty E. Fleener M.S.W.
Today I want to address mental health
consumers and their families who use self help groups. My
message is to be very careful when you enter an online or
offline support group. That may be a bulletin board, email
support group, a meeting where people meet face to face, etc.
There are many different reasons that people seek out these
"groups." Some go just to listen to other people so
they won't feel so alone. Some go as a place just to vent.
Some come with a real desire to grow and change their lives.
Some are there just to please someone in their life but don't
want to be there. There are many other reasons people seek
these groups out.
I think the mistake we make many times is assuming that
everyone there is there to promote positive changes for
themselves and learn new and different ways to live their
lives. We assume they are desiring inner growth and healing.
However as many of us have found out, this is not the case.
People go to these groups for all kinds of reasons and many
times the people themselves are not even aware of why they are
I get letters from people all the time complaining how their
"group" is making them miserable instead of helping
them. People are say horrible things to them, getting angry at
In the family groups I hear this all the time. "All they
do is complain about their partners. No one ever talks about
themselves or looks within themselves."
Whether you have a mental health disorder or are a family
member, you must remember that when you go into that group,
you and most everyone in there came in with your unhealthy
behavior. Only you haven't been into recovery very long so you
are not even aware of which behavior of yours is healthy and
which is unhealthy.
I had to learn this myself when I joined my first mental
support group. I had no idea which of my behaviors was ill and
which wasn't. Honest! However I learned about myself from
listening to other people and relating to many of the things
other people said. I couldn't even "go off" on
people in the group or we would be penalized. That rule in and
of itself helped to teach me how to communicate with others
without going off on them. I simply couldn't flame people!
Now if you are a family member and you come into your new
group with the old unhealthy behavior of avoiding thinking and
talking about yourself and only talk and complain about your
partner, you are likely to present yourself this way to the
group initially. Correct? This is the only way you know how to
cope in your situation thus far. You are doing the best you
can with the tools you have and you are not aware there is
another and possibly better and healthier way to live.
Chances are very high that most people in the family group are
going to present themselves in the same way - the only way
they know to cope. However this behavior didn't work and
doesn't work because if it did you and they wouldn't be in the
support group to begin with, correct?
Some families talk as if their happiness solely depends upon
their partner's behavior. They believe that their happiness is
outside of themselves and in someone else's hands.
Anytime you feel that happiness, peace, harmony, etc. are
somewhere outside of you, you are on the wrong track and you
will not find them there. They simply are not there to find.
Happiness has always been inside of you and you have always
had the opportunity to grab on to it but weren't aware of this
and if you were, you didn't know how to bring it out.
Just like a partner of an alcoholic may say "when Marsha
stops her drinking, then I will be happy and my married life
will be smooth." So you try to do everything you can to
get Marsha to stop drinking because this is the
"key" to your happiness.
Chances are more if Marsha got sober you wouldn't know what to
do with yourself or how to act.
So if you are a family member and you are in a group where all
everyone does is complain about their partner, you are only
allowing yourself to feel a little bit better so that you can
stay in this unhealthy and unhappy situation. Plus you are not
learning that your present coping skills are not healthy.
If you were in an unhappy marriage without sex and got into an
affair with great sex, your marriage could possibly last
longer maybe? But are you really working out the issues?
I encourage you to seek out groups where there are enough
people in there that are far enough into recovery so that they
can teach you recovery skills.
Families - get your focus off of your partners and on to
yourselves. What do you want out of life? What brought you
into this relationship? What attracted you to this partner?
What needs to happen for you to become emotionally healthy?
Look within. You will of course have to assess whether your
partner is ready to make a commitment to getting help, both
medical and counseling because this will have an influence on
your choices in life.
Instead of saying "Sharon has a horrible mental health
disorder. She does
this and this and this and blah, blah blah." Turn it
around and say "What is it about me that attracted
someone like Sharon and is attracted to someone like
Mental health consumers - are there many people in your
"group" that are into recovery? Are there folks
giving you hope for a brighter future or are you in a group of
people who are all brand new in recovery and everyone is
depressed and not doing well? Now of course you want to be
honest with the group and share and be there for each other.
That what this is all about. But if your group is solely
people who haven't gone far into recovery you will begin to
believe the illusion that there IS no recovery and that you
will only have gloom and doom to look forward to.
Whether you are a family member or a consumer, look for
someone well into recovery and study them. Talk to them. Let
them encourage you. LEARN from them and stop the
merry-go-round habit of repeating self destructive behavior
that gets you nowhere.
There is a "rule" that physicians go by and that is
to "do no harm" to their patients. When you are in
your "group," remember also that most everyone in
there is hurting. Many are near suicide - more than you
realize. Do no harm. Let me repeat myself. Do no harm.
That sounds easy to do but when we are hurting it is easy to
hurt someone when we really aren't meaning to. Remember how I
felt when I started the mental health group? I had to really fight
flaming people. I still fight that but not as severely.
Remember also, if you get your feelings hurt in a
"group," you are one among many and chances are very
high that the event had nothing to do with you. Know from the
start that many people in the group are not well and sometimes
when folks aren't well, they hurt other people - sometimes
horribly. Sometimes people even set out to purposely use
people for their own gain and you must keep your eyes open for
Here many of you have trust issues to begin with and I am
telling you to come to groups not trusting people, but in fact
I am doing just that. Get to know them well before you give
them your trust. Also remember that many people who are
so-called "well" and perhaps in charge of things may
be the person you need to trust the least.
For those of you reading this article who are on bad terms
with anyone in your group, write them a letter right now and
tell them how much you appreciate them. Tell them something
you really like about them. Life is short. It doesn't matter
what someone said or who did what. The event is over.
Mental Health Matters for information
and articles. Get
help to find
a therapist or list
your practice; and Psych
Forums for message boards on a variety of MH topics.
Copyright © Patty Fleener, M.S.W. All