If you’re looking for a low-to-no cost alternative to therapy that provides a sense of community and connectedness, attending a support group may be a great start. These groups are typically free of charge, problem-specific, and fight isolation through shared suffering and supporting one another in finding viable solutions to an issue. Like any means of treatment, there are pros and cons to support groups that are worth evaluating while considering whether or not you’d like to try one out. These are the notable perks and downfalls to support groups that can help you decide whether or not a support group is right for you.

The pros to support groups

They obliterate feelings of isolation. We’ve all had the same thought before: Who out there could possibly understand what I’m going through? Dealing with unique and/or socially-stigmatized issues can make connecting to others and combatting feelings of loneliness a major struggle. One perk of support groups is that they show you that you’re not alone in what you’re experiencing. Connecting to people with similar issues can provide you with a sense of comfort in a small community, one which understands, to an extent, what you’re going through.

They offer you new perspectives. If you’re struggling with a mental illness, a personal roadblock, or another life hurdle, you may feel as if though you’ve exhausted every effort trying to solve or cope with your problem. Support groups are a great way to earn a fresh perspective on your issues and draw from a new handful of potential solutions. When you connect with other people struggling with or trying to make sense of similar problems, hearing them offer their personal insight may help you gain a new perspective on how to approach your own struggles.

There’s a support group for almost everything. You may have a hard time finding a therapist who is focused on easing depressed fathers through the terrible twos, educating anorexic patients how to cook for themselves, or guiding people with facial deformities through their struggles with self-image. However, if you look hard enough (or start your own group!) you may be able to find a support group focused on these unique issues. A nice element of support groups is that they’re often fairly specific and keep their relative focus on one, shared struggle. This isn’t to say that you can’t shift the conversation away from this issue, yet you can be guaranteed that others in your group are actively experiencing and seeking solutions for the same problems that you are.

They’re low cost. Most support groups are completely free. Weekly or bi-monthly therapy can quickly become very costly, especially if you don’t receive insurance coverage for your sessions. If you’re unable to foot the hefty bill of individual therapy, a support group can be a viable alternative to traditional therapy practices. While support groups aren’t the same experience as group therapy or individual therapy, which have their own benefits, they are a helpful, free resource for those who are seeking some form of emotional support.

The cons to consider

They can be triggering. Support groups are designed with the intention of bringing recovery-minded individuals together, but this isn’t always — or even often — the case. These groups also tend to be a place where people feel safe to vent and open up about their current struggles. This can be an overwhelmingly positive experience for those who need to release the weight of their struggles, yet a potentially unsettling one for those who are easily triggered. Conversations leaning in the negative or disordered direction may be triggering for certain members of the group. This could be especially risky if you’re dealing with a disorder, illness, or addiction which is rooted in triggers and comparativeness, such as eating disorders, drug addiction, or alcoholism. Ensure that you are firm in your recovery and connect with recovery-minded individuals within your support group to get the most out of these meetings without slipping into destructive patterns.

They can’t provide medical care. While those who run support groups are often eager to help in any ways that they can, they’re typically not able to provide you with medical support. If there’s a possibility that you could benefit from medication or medical treatment for any mental health conditions, those at the heads of support groups generally can’t help you gain access to testing for these products, nor write you prescriptions. You’ll need to consult a doctor, psychiatrist, or other healthcare professional if you’re looking to try out medication as a means of stabilization. Additionally, not all advice that comes out of support groups is medically accurate. Before trying out any tips, tricks, or coping skills, be sure to do a bit of research to ensure that they are safe and effective means of dealing with your problems.

There can be conflict. When you’re discussing heavy issues with any group of people, conflicts, debates, and tensions can arise. Sometimes, the discussion of heavy topics can become a breeding ground for arguments or disputes about the effectiveness of a coping strategy, the validity of an experience, or the means of dealing with a specific struggle. During or after these conflicts, focusing on yourself and evaluating your needs can help you make well-informed decisions about whether or not you feel that a specific support group is a safe and stable environment for you to address your issues in. If the conflict is brief and out-of-character for whoever started it, then you may decide to overlook it and provide support, yet if chaos is a constant theme, it may be best to find another group to join.