When people experience traumas, crises, or catastrophes, when they encounter medical or interpersonal difficulties that they cannot cope with by themselves, or if they simply need to find a sympathetic audience who will listen to their problems, they often turn to support groups: groups of people who meet to exchange social support about a problem or situation that they all have experienced. Support groups, which are also known as self-help groups, exist for nearly every major medical, psychological, or stress-related problem. Each one is likely to be unique in some respects, but most such groups are practical in focus and interpersonal in method, for they usually strive to provide members with both emotional support and useful information. Support groups are usually organized and regulated by the members themselves, yet members often report benefits from participation that rival the gains of members of more formal and traditional treatment methods.

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Copyright © 2010 SAGE Publications, Inc. This article first appeared in Encyclopedia of Group Processes & Intergroup Relations.

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