Finding the Right Support Group for You

Understanding support groups

Michele Diamond, LICSW, BCD, provides a thoughtful description of the various forms that support groups of any kind can take at www.responsibledivorce.com.The Mayo Clinic provides a more in-depth look at how support groups of all types work. A shorter article specific to divorce support groups is at www.divorcemag.com.

(Since this page was first put together in the early 2000's, the number of independent divorce support groups in Kentucky and southern Indiana has plummeted greatly. The groups that used to be offered by individual churches have been for the most part replaced by DivorceCare, with its standard 13-week faith-based curriculum of videos, readings, and discussions led by church personnel. A few churches still have their own programs, sometimes as a sequel to the DivorceCare class. So, this table might simply no longer apply in your part of the state, but we are going to leave it up as a reminder of the range of approaches that have been taken. And might be again.)

Using the table

The following table is intended to help people looking for a divorce recovery support group to identify which aspects of a group are important to them, and which are less so. If there are several groups in your area, being able to match your needs and preferences with what is available could save weeks or months of trial-and-error meeting attendance until you find a good match.

If none of them even come close to what you know you need, consider starting a group yourself. Seriously. There are over 500,000 (!) self-help groups in the U.S., and someone in need like you started each of them. An extraordinary resource about the theory and practice of support groups, especially how to start one, is at the Community Engagement Institute website at Wichita State: www.ccsr.wichita.edu.

We would be glad to share the mechanics of how our group has worked since 1982. It does not require trained personnel or clergy, it doesn't cost anything, and would only require four or five people in need to get together to start it. Contact us by email on the Contact page if you'd like to know more.

The divorce recovery support groups listed elsewhere on this site have evolved under a variety of conditions: the resources and values of the sponsoring organization, experience and availability of leadership, local morés, and the like. Each dimension in the left-hand column is followed by a range of responses to those conditions. As you investigate the available support groups by phone or email or visit or web site, you can get a feel for how each one works – structured or unstructured, faith-based or non-denominational, dating-friendly or dating-averse – and make your choice accordingly. The three columns for low, medium, and high only represent points on what is usually a continuum of response. For reference, Divorce Recovery Louisville's approximate place is indicated by the shaded entries.

Dimensions of Divorce Support low medium high
Group Organization
affiliation independent offered by local sponsoring organization (S.O.): church, community center, etc. affiliated with national divorce support organization
membership open only to members of S.O. S.O. members plus approved referrals open to all, non-denominational
unmarried people welcome no prefer married
yes
LGBT people welcome no don't ask, don't tell
yes
authority no one really in charge one person calls all the shots committee of leaders makes decisions and resolves group issues
leadership training none (i.e., learn by doing) regular in-house training: group dynamics, personality types, stages of grief, etc. leaders all have previous formal training and/or professional experience
Group Philosophy
faith component talk about religion avoided religion discussed as it affects individual situation major emphasis on discerning faithful response to situation
dating between group members and non-members discouraged tolerated encouraged
dating between group members discouraged tolerated encouraged
dating between group members and group leaders discouraged tolerated encouraged
social activities few or no group social activities some regular group social activities: shared meals, ballgames, etc. Kids welcome. dances, mixers, parties. Kids in the way.
contact between leaders and members between meetings little or none occasional informational emails or phone calls, Facebook updates regular follow-up phone calls, emails, weekday lunches, etc.
gender group is for just for one sex, or sexes meet separately men & women meet together occcasionally men & women meet together all the time
role in divorce dumpers & dumpees meet separately together occasionally together all the time
can group serve both parties in a divorce? no could accomodate both parties simultaneously if we had to yes, active effort either to help reconcile or to support both parties
reconciliation encouraged? no: group's focus is divorce support, not marriage therapy if at least one partner wants to try yes: mission is always to try to help couples reconcile; divorce is last resort
publicity little: word-of-mouth, referrals some: flyers, announcements in church bulletins, web site active recruiting: mailings, newspaper ads, TV/radio spots
Group Meetings
population served separated and/or divorced separated, divorced, & widowed all single adults
leadership qualifications and training peer-to-peer, no formal designated discussion leader led by peer facilitator(s) led by trained professional: therapist, social worker, clergy
number of discussion leaders one main leader all the time 2 to 10 leaders, taking turns or leading separate small groups over 10 leaders, ditto
meeting structure free-form conversation moderated by facilitators structured discussion of shared reading, talk, or video lecture
enrollment flexibility enrollment at set times only, i.e., beginning of course sequence short-term crisis counseling until beginning of next regular seqence join anytime
cost free, or voluntary donation fee for materials only fee to leader or sponsoring organization
materials few or no materials distributed regular handouts book or other standard curriculum materials provided
duration of program short-term crisis counseling (about a month) longer-term divorce education (two to six months) year-round support
average length of active participation 1 month 2 months to a year over a year
meeting frequency less than once a week once a week more than once a week
average total attendance per meeting 5 to 10 10 to 50 over 50
discussion group size, if different from total attendance counseling: one-on-one or two-on-two small groups: 6 to 10 over 10
discussion group membership, if different from total attendance random assignment to groups members choose which small group to be in leaders assign members to small groups, as to maintain gender balance and to avoid personality conflicts
ages served adults only adults and teens or adults and children adults, teens, and children
dealing with disruptive members (substance abuse, personality disorder, etc.) no way to make them go -- just keep suggesting they need to work on underlying issues (elsewhere) before group can be useful to them sole responsibility: leader unilaterally asks disruptive member to leave shared responsibility: in formal procedure, board authorizes leader to ask disruptive member to leave the group