Support Groups: Support Articles
ARE YOU AWARE OF THESE TWELVE
Bill Gareau, MHDL from Group Counseling: Strategies and Skills Jacobs, Harvil
& Masson, Wadworth, Inc. 1988
There are many issues to consider when
facilitating a support group meeting. And although you can't anticipate every
issue that may arise, you should be aware of the following 12 positive and
negative forces that affect all groups:
1. Group Size. Groups that are too large
make it difficult to meet the needs of all the members and should be broken up
into subgroups. Groups that are too small can create a sense of "forced
2. Session Length. This will depend on the
physical/mental ability of group members and size of the group. Enough time
needs to be allowed for each member to have an opportunity to share, without
allowing the session to last beyond the physical and/or mental durability of its
3. Setting. Take into consideration
accessibility, privacy and comfort. Also consider the seating arrangement (a
circle usually works best in creating a sense of cohesion).
4. Member Composition. Individual
personalities, backgrounds and styles of expression need to be accommodated and
worked with, even though a group may already have a sense of universality.
Remain aware of who is in the group and how to best communicate with each
5. Level of Goodwill. Sometimes members in
a group will be resistant, hostile or disruptive. It is wise to have a plan for
dealing with this inevitable occurrence before it happens. It is equally
important for group members to have some input in developing this plan.
6. Level of Commitment. When the level of
commitment wanes, it is a sure sign that members are not getting their needs
met. Evaluation on a regular basis is vital for maintaining a high sense of
7. Level of Trust. Trust level in a group
waxes and wanes as the group progresses. It is important to be aware of forces
that can contribute to a low level of trust; fear of breach of confidentiality,
fear of being criticized or judged, existence of cliques within a group, hostile
group members and inadequate group leadership.
8. Members' Attitudes Toward Each Other. If
a leader finds that certain members of a group simply do not care for each other
and this interferes with group cohesion, meeting with those members individually
may be necessary to try to resolve the problem.
9. Members' Attitudes Toward the Leader.
The leader must be open to the fact that he/she may not be appropriate for the
group; regular evaluation and feedback from the group members is vital.
10. Leader's Attitude Toward Members.
leader must also be aware of any biases or prejudices he/she may have toward
certain group members or general populations. Members need to speak up if they
perceive a bias or prejudice the leader may not recognize.
11. Interaction Patterns of Members
Leader. The group should try to speak to other members of the group as well as
to the leader. The leader needs to remain aware of his/her level of interaction
so he/she does not dominate the group.
12. Stage of Group. Groups are made
living people who grow and change, and as such groups are living, developing and
dynamic as well. Groups go through different growth stages and issues or
concerns need to be taken in the context of the developmental stage of the
COMMON GROUP DILEMMAS: NEGATIVE GROUP
Bill Gareau, MHDL from Group Counseling: Strategies and Skills Jacobs, Harvil
& Masson, Wadworth, Inc. 1988
Let's just forget it. Nothing ever
anyway. We plan and plan and all our efforts go unnoticed. It's useless, so why
bother. We're all sick and nobody can really do anything worthwhile. So let's
just forget it.
Negative group members are often chronic
complainers, seeing not only the worst-case scenarios in their own lives, but
often in the group as well. Their disagreeable and complaining behaviors run
counter to the vital group dynamics of cohesion and safety.
This is not saying that occasional
attitudes are not permitted. Living with a chronic illness, fear and chronic
pain are all valid reasons for a person to feel discouraged at times.
The real problem is the chronically
negative attitude and how contagious it can be: if it is not dealt with rather
quickly, the group can turn into a gripe session which is rarely, if ever,
supportive or healing. Pessimistic members are likely to get angry with the
leader or with other group members, will often gossip and break confidentiality
outside of meetings, and can be hostile or abusive.
If you are in the middle of conducting
discussion group when a negative member begins to damage morale, try finding
allies among the positive group members and encourage more participation from
them, maintaining a constructive tone for the meeting. During this time, try to
avoid eye contact with the negative member when asking questions of the group,
so they do not have the opportunity to set a negative trend for the discussion.
Dealing with negative members can be
difficult, but it is very important to confront the situation before it destroys
the group. One strategy for addressing the issue is to have a leader (if there
is one, if not, have a designated group member) talk with the troubled person
outside the group and try to determine circumstances that may be causing the
If the person is so unhappy coming
group, why are they still coming? What would help this person to be more
positive? Sometimes people simply want the attention of the group or leader but
are afraid to ask for it directly, so they act out unfavorably. Sometimes they
feel (or are afraid of being) left out or that they are of little value to the
group. It the person is offered a chance to participate in a productive or
positive way, they may respond favorably.
It is generally not a good idea to
the negative member directly in front of the group. This could very easily
escalate into an argument or give the individual even more to complain about.
Try not to spend too much time focusing
a negative member, which can cause feelings of resentment and alienation in
other members of the group. Sometimes there is no other alternative than to ask
a chronically negative member to leave the group. But keep in mind that a
person's adversity is just a symptom of some unexpressed feeling.
So long as drawing this person out
consume most of the group time, it is perfectly appropriate to try to let
him/her know that the group cares about how miserable they appear to be. Attempt
to reassure the individual that the group is concerned and interested in seeing
this attitude resolved, so that meetings can be productive and healing for
SHARING THE LOAD
by Barbara Ponter excerpted from the article "Sharing the
Load: A Few Ideas for Recruiting Members for Group Tasks" New Jersey Self-Help
You know you can't do everything, and you
also know that in a "mutual help" group you shouldn't. Other members must become
involved. Here are a few examples to help you enlist other participants:
1. Identify and name the jobs that
be done. Consider "brainstorming" at one of your meetings. Come up with a list
of the jobs and be as clear as possible as to what will be involved. Circulate a
sign-up sheet at meetings.
2. Ask potential volunteers individually
private. Be sure to indicate how you will support them if they have a problem.
3. Ask them to serve in a specific
allow them to volunteer for something else as well.
4. Always specify how long they will
expected to serve, for example: three months, six months, etc. Consider a fixed
term of one or two years for some jobs.
5. If you encounter problems in finding
individual to do a specific job, ask two people to volunteer to share the
responsibility of that job. More people will accept if they know they won't be
expected to do everything.
6. Be sure to continuously acknowledge
people publicly for the jobs/tasks accomplished. This can be done at meetings,
as well as through the group's newsletter.
7. Circulate or hand out skills/resources
sheets. Every member is asked to complete a sheet with their name and skills
description, type of personal contacts (journalist in the family, uncle is a
caterer, etc.) and phone number.
Eventually you will have a list of
skills and resources to match up with your jobs. It may be a helpful list to
check for a replacement if someone suddenly becomes ill or leaves the group. The
skills category may provide new and exciting positions, example: if someone just
writes "gives great parties," sign them up to be the social chairperson!
Remember, it is never too late to start a sign-up sheet. Identify the helpers
FINDING GUEST SPEAKERS
Reprinted with permission
from the Resource
Materials Manual – February 2000, a publication from The National Multiple
Sclerosis Society on Collaborative Leadership
Support group leaders should make every effort to offer unbiased,
well-rounded programs. Here are some tips for finding speakers:
Tap the experience and contacts of your group members because a member’s
personal knowledge of a speaker is usually a good reference. Also, a potential
speaker may be more likely to respond to someone he/she knows personally. Does
someone in your group know of a local professional, e.g., a physician,
therapist, lawyer, or another who is knowledgeable and can be
Contact local social service and government agencies and hospitals
(sometimes they already have lists of possible speakers – contact
public/community relations departments). If you know what you want, start at
the top by writing a letter to the Director or C.E.O.
Local colleges and universities – write/call the chairperson of a
specific department related to your group’s interest, for example, the
Psychology Department for speakers to address stress, the Nursing Department
for self-care instruction, etc.
Government agencies – Social Security Administration, Division of
Vocational Rehabilitation, etc.
Lawyers – especially those specializing in discrimination law, financial
planning, insurance, and disability law.
Professional associations - (for psychologists, social workers, nurses,
doctors, county medical society, others) to ask for local speakers on subjects
such as: stress management, a specific type of therapy, medications, choosing
a good therapist/doctor, etc.
Alternative health providers – on herbal medicine, meditation, yoga, or
another. (Use caution when exploring this option for minimizing risk to group
Pharmaceutical company representatives - (a panel with several
representatives will offer a more well-rounded presentation), or a local
pharmacist on drug interactions and taking medicines wisely.
Representatives from other CFIDS support groups, to speak about their
group’s best meetings, discussions, speakers, and other successful activities
they have had.
Consider using a pre-recorded or “canned speaker,” i.e., tape of
radio interview show (25 minutes long or less), conference presentation,
portion of a TV program, etc. Or start a tape library of your own, by asking
some of your “live guests” if you may tape their presentation for your group’s
lending library collection.
Reference: “Finding Guest
Speakers for your Group”; American Self-Help Clearinghouse,Denville,NJ.