Building Support from Family, Community and Professionals

Support groups are widely offered in hospitals and community settings and online for broad population groups (e.g., grandparents rearing grandchildren, teens with chronic and life-threatening medical conditions, adults caring for aging parents, families and caregivers of Veterans) or for illness-specific groups (e.g., caregivers of loved ones with dementia, serious mental illness, Parkinson’s, cancer).

Support groupResearch on support groups generally shows high levels of satisfaction by participants, but relatively weak impact on caregiver depressive symptoms and burden, especially when compared with individualized caregiver interventions (Pinquart & Sörensen, 2006).

Specific to Substance Abuse Support Groups (e.g. Twelve-Step Self-Help [Al-Anon, Nar-Anon] and Twelve-Step Facilitation [TSF]), few controlled studies have been focused on this approach, although TSF counseling has been used in several trials as a control comparison condition. Results generally indicate that this program leads to improvements in caregiver functioning, but little change in the person with substance abuse disorder (Barber & Gilbertson, 1996; Dittrich & Trapold, 1984; Kirby et al., 1999; Meyers et al., 2002; Miller et al., 1999).

Problems which can be encountered by psychologists attempting to unite caregivers into support groups include:

  • Difficulty in leaving care recipient to attend group may make consistent group attendance difficult.
  • Transportation and parking costs may be cumbersome if caregivers travel from great distance or reside in areas with minimal public transportation.
  • Lack of commonality in health conditions of care recipients may be frustrating for participants.
  • Early-stage caregivers may find tales of late-stage or end-of-life caregiving frightening.
  • Some caregivers may prefer information and educational support rather than emotional or social support which these groups typically provide.

Modern technology offers an opportunity to overcome barriers to offering support groups to caregivers. For example, the Family Caregiver Alliance offers online support groups including an LGBT Caring Community Online Support Group. The Caregiver Action Network offers an online discussion forum and lists over 50 online support groups for caregivers of individuals across the lifespan, including disease-specific groups.


Chien, W.T. & Norman, I. (2009). The effectiveness and active ingredients of mutual support groups for family caregivers of people with psychotic disorders : a literature review. Journal of Nursing Studies, 46, 1604-1623.

Pinquart, M., & Sörensen, S. (2006). Helping caregivers of persons with dementia: Which interventions work and how large are their effects? International Psychogeriatrics, 18, 577-595.

Meyers, R.J., Miller, W.R., Smith, J.E., & Tonigan, J. (2002). A randomized trial of two methods for engaging treatment-refusing drug users through concerned significant others. Journal of Consulting & Clinical Psychology, 70(5), 1182-1185.

Miller, W.R., Meyers, R.J., & Tonigan, J. (1999). Engaging the unmotivated in treatment for alcohol problems: A comparison of three strategies for intervention through family members. Journal of Consulting & Clinical Psychology, 67(5), 688-697.