SMALL SUPPORT GROUPS

HELPING EACH OTHER PROCESS LIFE

Types of Groups

There are many different types of Support Groups. One is where you have a Facilitator, someone who leads the Group on a regular basis. This can be a Professional Therapist, Clergy, or a Laymen. All are effective in their own ways. Another way is for a Group to run its course by allowing its members take turns as facilitators. There are probably many other ways and ideas that could be implemented that go beyond what has been mentioned.

Recommendation

I recommend that if you implement groups at your church or Institution. That the groups be limited to between three and five people. That they also be separate as Men’s and Women’s Group. This will allow both the Men and the Women to process and grow together. Then in real time they can appreciate each other that much more when they come together. It also provides a safe and brave space for one another.

The Method

The Support Group Method can be a very powerful healing and centering journey. The Method Doesn't work for everyone. It is up to the individual to discover if Support Groups work for them. I have been in many Groups throughout my lifetime. Some have not worked for me at all. The current one that I have been a part of for several years, Is probably the best one that I have ever been a part of. I suspect the reason for this is that we are a small group of people. It is a closed Men's Group. Which means that people who have not been vetted, interviewed, considered as a member, or accepted; cannot just drop in on our Group.

This method works best when the members actively participate in the group. Human nature is to fix things, always remember that none of us are here to fix each other. We are present to help guide one another to finding our own individual truth and center. This is done through a Method called Processing. Processing is when the individual explains what they are dealing with. It is a process. It communicates to others in the group the variables involved. When someone is processing an issue. If meeting in real time, some groups use a talking stick. Which is a physical device used to let everyone know that the individual processing still has the floor. Because of the Covid-19 Pandemic we are limited to meeting in a virtual support group. So the talking stick tool isn’t workable. Going forward I myself and not sure that I am comfortable with using a talking stick as it has the potential for passing around colds and germs. Something that has always been troublesome concern for me.

Attending a Support Group is like cutting the learning curve in half. There is a lot of resources. There is a lot of Support. One can share their emotional concerns.

- Marsha Drozdoff, ACSW, LCSW, CRMT

Questions To Ask Yourself

A question to ask yourself before joining a group such as the one we are discussing. What do you bring to the group? What kind of experiences do you have which have forged your knowledge and understanding; things that have tempered your people skills. The second question is What do you want from the group? This is an important key aspect to understanding if this type of group is good for you. If you can answer these questions in authentic ways that speak from your heart, vs saying the things you think that others want to hear; Then such a group is a very good fit for you.

Boundaries

Boundaries are a critical aspect in any group. Confidentiality is a key component. It goes beyond not repeating what has been shared outside of your group. All participants must restrain themselves when interacting with anyone who a group member has been processing an issue about or with. In example: wives, children, family members, church members etc. 

Another aspect of Boundaries is that it is imperative that we never try to fix each other. We are not Therapists and should never act as such. It is better to listen to a person processing and offer support and understanding. Sometimes ideas for different ways of coping may come into play. But the person who is processing always has the right to reject any feedback. It is their issue, not the person giving the feedback. Another important aspect of giving feedback to the processing individual. While giving feedback, avoid commenting on another person's feedback. Such as saying “I don’t agree with that.” It is better for you to state your truth in the situation. Rather than entering into a debate on the topic. There can certainly be differing opinions during feedback. But it isn’t up to the people giving feedback to distinguish whose opinion holds the most weight. It is up to the person processing to accept or deny the feedback. The person processing doesn’t even have to verbally acknowledge or deny feedback. It is up to their individual personality traits and their own coping skills for expressing opinions on feedback. If during the feedback aspect of Processing individuals get into a disagreement over what is said, that in itself can seem oppressive, manipulative, or competitive. All things people should do their best to avoid in groups.

Moral Obligations

There is a moral and ethical dilemma that should be addressed. Should one of the members in a group attendance mention abusive situations or intent to do physical harm to the self or others. Then the group really should and must help that person to process it to the best of their abilities. But they should also reach out to someone outside of the group for further help. An example, if the group meets at a church; they should reach out to the clergy for counsel. Perhaps another method would be to ask the person going through it if it is OK to speak to the Pastor or Minister about them. Mention that you really are obligated to connect them with someone who has the tools to help them in that particular situation. Offer to drive that person to the local crisis unit for mental health or domestic violence clinics for further professional help in the situation. 

Attendance

Regular group attendance is a vital part of any group's strength. With regular attendance, individuals don’t have to keep explaining themselves if they have had to do an ongoing process over a course of several meetings. Everyone's presence in the group matters. Each one a vital component to the success of the group. The expectation is that members are at every meeting that they are able to attend, to help one another. If an individual decides a group is not for them. It is best to attend a meeting and share that feeling with other members. This way members are not left wondering if someone is still a part of the group itself. It also honors each other with integrity. When mentioning a desire to back out of a particular group. A question may come forth of asking why. If the answer is a group dynamic. Then the group itself can attempt to have a discussion on the topic to see if that individual's needs can be met. As a result, changes might be implemented. Then that individual may decide to stay with the group. Sometimes life situations get in the way and it isn’t always the result of a group's dynamics that one needs to move on. There is nothing wrong with that either. But it is best to make a commitment to notifying the group in a meeting the intentions to leave said group. The recommendation is to never flake out, but express a desire for departure so that the group itself can have closure. If one is going to be late, contact someone in the group. Perhaps in a text message. Just to let everyone know you will be late. Same goes if you have a conflicting appointment or event taking place. A good way to look at it, view the group you are a part of as if you were attending an appointment with your doctor. Arrive a little bit early, to honor the start time for all concerned.

Check In

During the Check in segment of the group. Keep it simple, stay away from every little detail of your life. Maybe mention something like “if I were to process tonight, I would put a 5 on it” Meaning mention your number from one to ten. One being least severe and ten being a complete crisis.

The Pain Scale Method During Check In

During the course of time I had noticed that some in the group were getting upset. Because their issue had not been addressed. They were not given the opportunity to process a heavy issue. Even though that person was in a bit of a Crisis. So I had Meditated on this for a couple of weeks. The solution that I had come up with was the Pain Scale that Doctors and Nurses will have you put a number on your physical pain. It turned out that the Pain Scale applied to the need to process. Reduced the impact of not being able to process things dramatically. People were able to be more vulnerable and were encouraged to process things based upon their Pain Scale number. The highest one, always goes first. Then if after that person feels complete with the processing and agrees that the Group can move on. The next highest number is picked, and so on. If someone was missed due to time restraints. We table that person's processing to go to the top of the list for the following Group Meeting.

Let Them Speak

During any aspect of the group meeting, always let the other person finish their conversation. It respects one another and allows room for personal growth for both the person speaking, and the one receiving the information. The only time you should interrupt is if you desire a little bit of clarification on what the individual speaking is saying. However, it is always best to wait until they have finished their discussion for that particular paragraph in their sentence structure. Otherwise they may forget the entire train of thought they were working on. When giving feedback to a person processing. Give each other in the group room to be a part of the discussion. No one should dominate the discussions. It should always be a group effort.

Processing

Once an individual has done their processing, and others have given their feedback. But again, only if the individual processing has stated that they are open to feedback. It is important to ask that person if they are feeling complete, or asking “what do you need from the group to feel complete with this discussion?” Never leave anyone stuck in a situation. It could make them spiral after the meeting into a situation of depression, despair, agony, or anxiety. Be sensitive to this and look out for one another. 

Trust Components

Trust is established when individuals in the group have established mutual vulnerability. The heart of the group is vulnerability, the blood within the group is trust. Sharing with each other is the air that the group breathes in. Taking risk is very honorable and it helps a person to increase their integrity. Because they are sharing some very deep things about themselves.

These aspects lay out three important components:

  1. Confidentiality
  2. Caring.
  3. Commitment.

Group Decisions

The group itself should decide on every variable or parameter mentioned above. But another key component is what time of the meeting is the cuff off point for processing. What I mean by this; perhaps two people have already processed and received feedback and feel complete. But there is only around ten minutes left for the usual allotted meeting time. It is best to not begin any new processing for that evening. Perhaps just asking how everyone felt about that day's meeting instead. In the event that a person scored low on the pain scale for processing. If there just was not enough time during the meeting to get to their issue. Then that person's processing time should be tabled and placed at the top of the next meeting. They can choose at that time to allow someone else to process instead. But really should be given the priority and option to go first in the following week’s meeting.

Opening And Closing Prayer & Meditation

The meeting should be opened with a brief prayer and/or meditation. Depending on the group's dynamics as a religious body or secular one. This gives everyone in the group a minute to center at the beginning of the meeting. It helps them to set aside the things that may have delayed their ability to prepare themselves for the group's activities for the evening. Closing the meeting with prayer and meditation. Helps individuals to go forward from the meeting with strength and good courage.

Where Did The Information Covered Come From?

The information listed in this document is the result of variables established in a Men's Group that I attend once a week. Instead of our usual processing. I had asked that we have an open discuss about what works in group, and what does not. We also discussed the confidentiality aspects and honoring one another's work in the process. It by no means is the absolute Law for how a group should be run. Everything here is merely a suggestion and should be taken as such. It is up to each individual Group to discover what works best for them.

 

Appendix

Listed below are some outline form details on the things mentioned above:

The following is generally how we have facilitated the Group:

  • Open with A Prayer or Meditation.
    • This is done by anyone in the Group who is feeling it that day.
  • Round Robin Check In
    • Discuss where you are and how you are feeling.
    • Refrain from “Journaling” the group doesn’t need to know your every life detail, or what your loved ones are doing. Save that for processing if needed.
    • Avoid discussing what people in your life are doing.
      • This prevents Triangulation. 
      • Reveals what the individual is doing vs. deflection.
    • Avoid processing a topic during check in. There is room for that later.
    • Mention if you were to process tonight or not.
      • Resist the urge to give details until actual processing begins.
      • Place a Pain Scale number on your need to process. 1-10
        • 1 being low maintenance required
        • 10 being critical mass and in total crisis mode.
What is a Support Group?
  • Support Groups can be a tool similar to a GPS device.
    • They help you to navigate to your destination.
    • Provides communication.
  • Support Groups Can Offer:
    • Emotional Support
    • Resources
    • Healing
  • Attending A Support Group
    • Helps to overcome isolation when dealing with heavy issues.
      • Often demonstrates that an individual is not alone. When others in the group express that they have dealt with or gone through it too. It helps tremendously.
    • Through Support Group Sessions, One is able to Process things.
    • Looking for a new normal, but not sure how.
    • Takes a certain amount of courage and vulnerability.
  • Attendees of Support Group
    • May just observe.
    • Have mentoring experiences.
    • Share experiences: Joys and Sorrows.
    • Walk in as a stranger who is alone, leave with a network of people.
  • Why attend A Support Group?
    • Many different styles of coping.
    • Ability to share with others and discover they are not alone in their circumstance.
    • Help in navigating various issues one may be experiencing.
    • Can learn communication techniques and coping strategies.
    • Many are dealing with Depression or Anxiety. Not sure how to deal with it.
    • Great way to establish for yourself a new normal.
Opening the Group with questions: Ice Breakers
  • Do you know each other?
  • One option for a round Robin.
    • Everyone says their name.
    • Everyone mentions where they are from originally.
    • Everyone mentions what they enjoy doing.
  • Start with a Game. A small gift bag with questions in it.
    •  Make sure there are enough questions for all present.
    • Each Group Member takes a card.
    • States their name before reading the question.
    • Answers the question about themselves.
      • What is your favorite color?
      • What is your favorite Movie, and why?
      • What would be your perfect job?
      • Where would you like to be in five years?
  • Ask A Group Question
    • What is my Self-Image
      • How would you describe the person you see in the mirror.
        • Pass around a mirror.
      • Do you like the thought that you have about yourself?
        • yes, or no; explain why.
      • What is one thing that you would like to change about yourself?
  • Pass around a list of descriptions
    • Each one chooses five positive words that would describe themselves.
Confidentiality Guidelines
  • Respect each other, and one another's truth.
  • Being in a Group is a serious event. 
  • Confidentiality Guidelines as a Group Member is really important.
  • Everything that you say in the Group is Confidential and is private.
    • When outside of the Group, do not continue any discussions that took place in Group.
    • What is said in the Group cannot be shared outside of the Group.
    • What is said in Group, stays in the Group!
  • Exceptions To The Rule of Confidentiality:
    • These are required by Law and Ethical Standards.
    • Intent to harm the self or others.
    • Abuse or neglect.

In Appreciation

To the wonderful men in my Wednesday Support Group. Thank you for helping me become the Man I am today. For allowing me to grieve, and celebrate my life. For demonstrating that I can have the courage to heal and become a whole person. I do not take any of the tools that you have given me lightly. You are my lighthouse. You helped me navigate my own journeys through some aspects of my dark night of the soul. The process that we have developed together has been a huge blessing. Thank you so much. You are spectacular human beings! I love you, I bless you, I appreciate you, and I behold the Christ in you!

 


 

Further Reading:

Support Group Definition And Details - Wikipedia

Support Groups: Make Connections Get Help - Mayo Clinic

9 Ways To Help Support Group Members Take Ownership Of Their Problems

9 Benefits Of Support Groups

Pre-Group Interviews And Group Sessions

Video Content:

Small Group Counseling - Self-image

An Introduction to Support Groups
Marsha Drozdoff, ACSW, LCSW, CRMT
 

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