Harlem Word: Laura Evensen talks about what a support group is and how to get the most out of one

Laura Evensen, MPH, the Behavioral Research Director of the stroke division at New York-Presbyterian Hospital is also the coordinator of the Northern Manhattan Stroke Club, which is the only bilingual stroke support group in the city. For the past five years, she has been in charge of making sure that stroke survivors have a safe place to learn about stroke and share their experiences with other people like them through the support group

Q: Does it help stroke survivors to talk to other people who are in similar situations to them, like people do in the stroke support group you run?

A: Definitely. There's a feeling of collective problem solving that happens when you have a room full of people who have been in a very similar situation. These people all have similar problems and are able to share their own stories to help each other come up with solutions. There's a lot of "Well I did this" and "I tried that but it didn't work." People are surprised to find that they learn things from the person sitting next to them.

Q: How does a support group work?

A: We usually have someone come in and speak to our group: doctors, researchers, community members, etc. Sometimes speakers will talk about new research going on around stroke. Other times they'll talk about exercise that is particularly helpful for stroke survivors. Each month the topic of the group changes. After the speaker we usually have an open discussion or a question and answer session.

Q: Who gets the most out of support groups?

A: I don't think there is just one type of person who gets something out of a support group. I think it does different things for different people. Some people are very curious to learn, and they enjoy the group because of the speakers and interesting topics covered. On the other hand, there are some people who come just for the social interaction. They listen to the lecture, and sometimes participate, but what they're really there for is to be around people. I can think of one person in particular. He's been coming every month for five years-and he hardly ever says anything. But I know he gets something out of it because he comes to every meeting on time and seems happy to be there. It's very important for some people to be in a group, to be a part of something.

Q: What would you say is the main reason people join a support group?

A: A support group serves a very important role. It gives people a close-knit community that they can come back to time and time again.

If you would like more information about joining a bilingual stroke support group in Northern Manhattan, please contact Laura at 212-342-1498 or via e-mail at: [email protected] You can also contact her colleagues Carly Klein at 212-305-1372 or [email protected]; or Veronica Perez at 212-342-4749 or [email protected]

Read more from Laura Evensen by clicking the links below:

Harlem Word is a series of interviews with Northern Manhattan health experts, written by HHPC and reviewed by our Health Advisory Board.
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