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Online support groups can be a great resource for caregivers who want to get help, information, and/or support via the internet. Often, participants in support groups get to know each other and forms bonds of friendship and caring, just as might occur in traditional, in-person settings.
Support groups on the internet can take on many forms, including chat rooms, discussion groups, and e-mail groups (or listservs).
Chat Rooms. Chat rooms are "virtual rooms" or areas of a website that participants can enter and share information with other participants on topics of shared interest. Chats take place in what is called "real time." That is, participants in a chat room type and send messages which appear almost instantly on the screens of all of the other participants who are in the room at that time. Usually websites which have chat rooms have theses rooms "open" at scheduled times during the week. Participants usually have to sign in before they enter. In most cases, chat rooms have a monitor, or a person who is responsible for overseeing or leading the discussion. Some sites invite special guests to join chat room discussions at scheduled times.
Discussion Groups. Discussion groups are another avenue in which people which shared interests can exchange information on the internet. Discussion groups are collections of messages and responses that are sent by participants, then posted on a designated section of a web site. Often discussion groups postings include a variety of topic areas, or "threads." For example, one participant might send a message asking a question, then several other participants might post responses, which in turn might generate further messages. Some discussion groups are very active, and have many participants who write messages on a regular basis. (It is perfectly acceptable to visit the discussion boards and just read, too. You don't have to write messages if you would prefer not to.) Like chat rooms, discussion groups have monitors, who oversee the discussions. Often, monitors have helpful information to contribute and do so on a regular basis. Unlike chat rooms, discussion groups do not usually operate in "real time"; there is typically some delay between the time that a message is sent and when it it posted. On the plus side, discussion groups can be accessed at any time. You can visit a discussion group and write or read messages at your convenience.
Email Groups. Email groups are also commonly knows as LISTSERVs. They are much like discussion groups in that members exchange information with each other on topics of common interest. Messages that are sent via email groups, though, are not available for everyone to view on a web site discussion board. Rather, they are sent directly to the email boxes of participants who have subscribed to the group. Like chat rooms and discussion groups, listservs are usually monitored. Participants who no longer wish to remain active in the group can "unsubscribe" at any time.