“Do you know anything about agoraphobia support groups, panic attack support groups & anxiety support groups? What do you recommend?”
While others can certainly inspire us, sometimes they also can be very unhelpful for our recovery. This certainly applies to agoraphobia support groups, and others such as anxiety support groups and panic attack support groups, etc.
Let me provide an example…
A friend of mine used to sell cars. He worked with an older car salesperson who would constantly talk about all the negative things in the world and drone on about how impossible it was to sell a car.
Each day this older man seemed to be an endless source of negativity. Although my friend would attempt to come to work with a smile on his face, once he was subjected to this man’s complaining, in short order he soon began to feel very bad.
Other salespersons who worked with this negative man also reported the same thing. Ironically, after bringing all of the other salespeople down emotionally, once a customer came on the lot, this older salesman would then approach the customer and proceed to successfully him/her a car. This older salesperson gained most of the sales because of his strategy, whether a conscious one or not.
This example illustrates a very good point that could impact an anxiety support groups:
This man’s negativity influenced the others’ emotions in the group and effectively rendered them useless, useless in the sense that they were unable to sell cars. AND this can apply to agoraphobia support groups and others too!
For instance, my experience with many agoraphobia support groups, especially online ones, is that often the group dynamics involve some people who begin complaining about how bad things are for them and then other people then try to out do the others with their complaints, whether this is conscious effort or not is besides the point.
Such dynamics are captured by something called Groupthink.
Ben Dattner, Ph.D., in his article entitled “Preventing ‘Groupthink”, describes Groupthink as a “dynamic wherein members of a team see the world through a biased, narrow lends, reach premature conclusions and make bad decisions.”
Dattner goes on to explain that a psychologist by the name of Irving Janis began exploring the concept of Groupthink when reviewing the events involved with the Bay of Pigs invasion of 1961. Janis described the process as a “deterioration of mental efficiency, reality testing, and moral judgment that results from in-group pressures.”
So an agoraphobia support group can be very unhelpful when the dynamics are akin to what Dr. Dattner describes whereby you “see the world through a biased, narrow lends, reach premature conclusions and make bad decisions.”
When you think about it, people suffering from anxiety, panic attacks and agoraphobia are in a negative state, not intentionally, but understandably because of the emotions they’re going through and the fear and distress that they’re experiencing.
When you have people in a group discussing all these negative things, like the car salesman we discussed previously, it tends to bring everyone down in the group, as Dr. Dattner describes. This is certainly not my idea of recovery.
Although sharing your feelings with others can feel good at the time, without having proper leadership and without receiving practical suggestions on how to get better, the session will be unhelpful.
This leads me to discuss the one exception: if you’re involved with an agoraphobia support group (or other support group) led by a very skilled and qualified therapist, and the therapist does a good job leading the group. This can be effective, although this is very hard to do online with a bulletin board / forum type of approach.
However, connecting with people who have a positive outlook can have the opposite effect of what I have just discussed. In other words, it can be very helpful for your recovery.
So what is the bottom line on anxiety support groups?
In my opinion, the best people to connect with (of course besides qualified therapists) are persons who have experienced and recovered from anxiety, panic attacks and agoraphobia, provided they are willing to share what’s helped them do so.
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References (Agoraphobia Support Groups, Panic Attack Support Groups and Anxiety Support Groups)
Dattner, B. Preventing Groupthink. Psychology Today. Retrieved March 31, 2012, from:
Irving Janus. (n.d.) In Wikipedia. Retrieved March 31, 2012, from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irving_Janis