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Last edited: September 14, 2012

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Support groups have evolved from an understanding of the benefits of peer group support for abused women in shelters and other community settings. They are based on the principles of building self-esteem, self-determination and empowerment.

Shelters may provide support groups for women residing in the shelter only, for women living in the community only, or for both shelter residents and women residing in the surrounding community. There are benefits to having support groups in all settings, though they may be especially relevant in settings where there are few counselors or limited capacities.

Among other benefits, support groups:

  • Provide a safe space for interpersonal relating that enables women to talk openly about issues and topics that tend to be considered unspeakable experiences in most other environments.
  • Employ a social approach to dealing with the social issues surrounding the abuse to enable women to perceive the public and political factors influencing their experience.
  • Promote social bonds which can counteract the isolation and shame that is created by incidents of violence or ongoing abuse. Sharing life stories with other women who have had similar experiences can reduce feelings of shame and guilt, helping women to learn coping strategies to address their sense of inadequacy.
  • Can be particularly beneficial in low-resource settings, where there may be limited access to individual counseling and other services.

Key steps for establishing support groups include:

  • Planning for the group (including goals and objectives)
  • Ensuring facilitators have clear roles and responsibilities and appropriate competencies
  • Developing group policies and protocols
  • Implementing group sessions