Erin Lavery, Senior Supervisor, Service Delivery:
Sometimes, the last thing our participants want to hear from a helping professional is, I know how you feel. It makes them wonder if we really do. Even though many of us have quit in our past, we are separated from that moment by time and experience. In short, we may have a pretty good idea of where you are coming from, but we dont know how you feel. This fact highlights an issue faced by many of our participants.
Quitting tobacco can be isolating. True- regulations and taxes may encourage people to quit, but they also can have an unintended side effect. They can cause smokers to feel disconnected or segregated from most of the population in their city, their church, and their workplace. As a result, many smokers find themselves building closer relationships with others who smoke because they find more understanding and support with them. They bond between inhales during lunch breaks and trips outside the bar between drinks.
When someone in one of these social groups starts to think about quitting, they are put in a strange place socially. They may not be supported by their friends who continue to smoke. Or maybe their friends avoid smoking around them and, as a result, spend less time near them. In short, they become distanced from their friends and this experience makes quitting more challenging.
Discussion forums help to change that. When smokers decide to quit, the forums provide a place where they can find people who do know what they are experiencing. More than that, the forums provide an environment where participants are welcomed for quitting (rather than questioned by smokers, chastised by non-smokers, or set apart from the group).
Quitting tobacco presents multiple challenges that we have learned to help alleviate. Doctors prescribe medications to lessen the symptoms of withdrawal. Counselors teach stress management techniques to help people manage their lives without tobacco. Coaches provide practical advice so that people can change their routines to make sense without a cigarette.
The discussion forums provide the next natural step in helping mitigate the effects of a formidable challenge in quitting: the toll it can take in a participants social life. When people have the support of other people who are quitting, they begin to rely on one another. Over time, people begin to rely on them which further re-enforces their connection to the group. This pattern reverses the cycle of isolation as a result of quitting and transforms the quitting process into an opportunity to connect with people who understand. The discussion forums create a social network to help participants cross the bridge from smoker to non-smoker. They even give participants a chance to help others do the same.
Web-based support is the 21st Centurys answer to the Clinical Practice Guidelines recommendation (Clinical Practice Guidelines) to provide social support both within and outside of treatment in order to increase a participants likelihood of staying tobacco free. Participants connect with each other in the forums and counsel each other to take steps forward. They also build relationships outside of the forums and become active participants in each others lives. Often, their forum buddies become friends that they chat with over the phone or meet for coffee.
Discussion forums are accessible to people in rural locations, the disabled, and to parents without childcare. They are largely self- managing, making them particularly cost-effective in todays struggling economy. Most importantly, however, is how much participants love the forums. In the words of one of our frequent posters:
All the feedback I got was awesome. You showed me a new direction to go. You reminded me of stuff I couldnt remember because of the craving. I am not afraid any more.