The following is a recent Q&A with Kathleen regarding the importance of support groups for a patient with a digestive disorder.
Epicured: Why do you feel support groups for people with a digestive disorder can be so impactful?
Kathleen: I feel that support groups for patients struggling with a digestive disorder can be so impactful given the psychological impact that comes from the diagnosis of a condition like IBS. Irritable bowel syndrome is more than altered bowel habits. In addition to the physical symptoms like pain and inflammation, it also causes anxiety and stress about everyday activities that others without IBS do not have to worry about. Is there a restroom nearby? What ingredients are in this meal when eating out? And much more. Plus, stress and anxiety are common triggers in digestive health illnesses. Partaking in a support group creates a time for people to share experiences in an open and welcoming environment where they can be reminded that they are all in this together and are not alone!
Epicured: What do you ask of attendees in terms of sharing and participation? What can they expect of you?
Kathleen: No patient is ever forced to share in the group, but I have realized that everyone does. Participants find ways to relate to one another and find it helpful to share. Sometimes we run out of time because of all of the sharing! I typically will bring up topics or prompts such as traveling with irritable bowel syndrome and share a bit about my personal experiences with IBS, but I serve as an additional listening ear. At the same time, I will add in pieces of information about treatment or ways to cope with some common IBS setbacks, which everyone appreciates.
“Having the support group gives me a safe place to talk openly and freely about my IBS, when normally it would be embarrassing. It’s comforting knowing that everyone else in the room has had their own battles, and that you’re not alone.”
-Quote from a support group member
Epicured: What kind of environment do you try to create at the meetings?
Kathleen: I work hard to create an informal environment so no patient feels pressured or uncomfortable. Making everyone feel comfortable is key for them to open up, since talking about irritable bowel syndrome and a resulting health symptom isn’t always easy in the beginning.
Epicured: How do Epicured snacks contribute to the environment?
Kathleen: The Epicured snacks have been amazing! It’s a way for people to try different low FODMAP products, and it contributes to the open and welcoming environment I try to foster. Eating has a strong social component, and with IBS, at times the enjoyment of eating is reduced, so the snacks contribute to a positive social environment.
Epicured: How do patients typically react to the groups?
Kathleen: All of the patients have loved the group so far. They enjoy when I ask questions, give prompts, and share health information that contributes to what they take away and are able to put into action outside of the group.