Components of a support group (?)

Discussion in 'The Watercooler' started by goldenguru, Oct 8, 2007.

  1. goldenguru

    goldenguru Active Member

    We (another lady and myself) are starting a support group for women whose husbands have a mental illness. We met last week and both feel the overwhelming need to do this ... since nothing exists in our area. Neither of us have ever been a part of a support group (except going to Families Anonymous for a few weeks).

    I am looking for ideas/suggestions that have worked (or not)for groups that you may belong to.

    I have a social work background and she has a masters in psychology (she's a clinical therapist) so that part is covered.

    Thanks in advance.
  2. Marguerite

    Marguerite Active Member

    How you run the group depends on what you feel you need. I had to sit down once with a few people and work backwards from what was already a well-functioning support group, and work out some rules.

    Here we go, from memory:

    1) Confidentiality. If someone at the group admits to sometimes hating their partner, this stays within the meeting. It's not referred to outside the meetings, unless the person herself raises the topic in a conversation with you; in which case, the conversation becomes a de facto support group meeting.

    2) Treat each other kindly. You're all hurting in similar ways, show respect to each other. Give each other some space and a sense of being heard.

    3) Be impartial. Be welcoming.

    4) No bagging doctors or therapists in general; be VERY careful about who you criticise and who you promote. Sometimes it's best to simply have a list (a very private list) of doctors who have been kinder or a better fit, and allow someone to choose from a list rather than be simply given A name. A "fink list" is something to publicly avoid, although there's nothing wrong with suggesting to someone, "Maybe you might like to consider a second opinion?" if enough people's experiences would indicate that the doctor concerned has missed his vocation as an axe murderer.

    5) Try to keep things positive, but realistic. So if you need to whine and complain then do so, but maybe set a time limit and break it down with some good news somewhere for someone. Once a person begins to repeat themselves, you need to hand the conversation to someone else. And if a person persistently repeats themselves, this indicates that they are emotionally 'stuck' on that point and may benefit from some one-on-one with a group member somewhere quiet.

    6) Do not force your opinion onto other people and insist yours is the only way to think or act. Nor should you allow others to do this - but you CAN say, "I tried this and it was wonderful, for me." It is wrong to say to anyone, "If you don't try this then clearly you aren't interested in finding a solution to your problem." Emotional blackmail should be shown the door.

    7) Remain impartial and scientific, in any approach to any scientific (ie medical) field. Include information on all opinions, not just one point of view. Think - like CD.

    And from here, the rules are your own. What we observed in the beginning - people talked, non-stop, at each other. We had to let it happen, because people needed it. It was noisy. It was bedlam. And we all felt heard, even though we were exhausted by the end of it. After that it settled down by about the fifth meeting. By then we TRIED to keep the noise to a dull roar and speakers limited to one at a time, but we kept the rules relaxed unless someone was really monopolising the floor and people were missing an opportunity to speak in their turn.

    If someone new turned up who really needed to talk, we sometimes delegated someone to go sit with that person somewhere quiet, and let them talk. For that, you need a team, even an informal one. We began with three of us. One person provided the living room and the coffee, we all brought a plate of something, another person made the phone calls to people and handled the contact details, a third person helped make the tea and coffee and maybe did some research on information. But as far as possible, we didn't have a single person in charge who told everyone when to talk, when to shut up, when to stand and when to sit. We had tea and coffee making facilities on tap and would get up and make another cup when we felt we wanted one, often continuing the conversation as we did so.

    This kept things informal and relaxed, which made it easier for people to really unburden themselves.

    We shared ideas. We talked. We listened. We complained to each other, which meant we had less need to complain at home (and our partners and families were VERY grateful!)

    We began to organise other outings. A picnic somewhere. because we all had to deal with the same problems, we all knew we understood one another's needs.

    We organised an evening outing - something very difficult for most of us. But the rule was, the support group members at these social events were not permitted to talk "shop". But the partners COULD, and often did. This mean THEY could talk to each other about THEIR side of the situations, and even ask us questions (which we had to answer, but not go into detail unless asked).
    The evening outings were often dinner parties, where each of us brought a dish (pre-organised, to make sure we didn't have ten offerings of macaroni cheese and little else).

    The support group meetings were held to run from a certain time, to a certain time. Anyone staying after that point had to be prepared to be left, as other people picked up their diary and moved on. If a few people went for coffee at a café afterwards, that was fine. But to meet at someone's home and outstay their welcome - not good, because people need their personal space returned at close of meeting.

    We had fun. We kicked off our shoes. We told rude jokes and often 'in' jokes which nobody outside the meetings would ever understand. And we left feeling uplifted, supported, no longer alone and looking forward to the next meeting.

    A support group evolves from its beginnings. It also changes as membership changes. Something to watch out for - the person who comes in, seems to be exactly who you want to run the show, and who then is permitted to take over and organise people. This will be great for some people and not others, which means some people (who could need ongoing support) will find themselves having to leave.
    It's not only support groups this happens to - it happens in the workplace and in professional groups too. I currently belong to a writing group and I haven't been all year, because although it's a collective, there is one bloke who has for a number of years now taken on the role of "boss" of the whole thing, even though there is no such official position. But if you asked any of a number of new recruits to this group, they would believe he is holding an officially designated position and is an authority on the subject, which he is not. He is simply a controlling person who uses this control to remove any who he feels can see through him. He uses people and it's been sad to see this formerly useful group decline.

    So watch out for that one. It's another reason to not have anything set in stone unless you have to - it makes it easier for you to pull the plug, or simply move elsewhere.

    Of course, if you are trying to get any funding for anything, you will need to be more official. But again from experience, support meetings which MUST begin with a business meeting are often struggling, because people who need support generally HATE paperwork, we have enough in our lives!

    Good luck with this one, go for it. It's easier than it looks, if you Keep It Simple, Sister!

  3. ScentofCedar

    ScentofCedar New Member

    Well, the Barnes & Nobles site has a section on how to establish and maintain a Book Club.

    The premise is the same.

    How may we establish the parameters that will create a safe, supportive environment where each of us is heard and is enabled to contribute equally ~ and how may we do this over time.

    I tried to begin a support group once, called Cherishing and Change. Its purpose was to provide a place for family members coping with acute onset, devastating illness in a mate to remember all that was good in their relationships and to learn how best to cope with their changed situations now.

    What I found was that, in the initial phases of acute illness, support systems seem to require more time than the perceived potential benefits merit.

    I still think it would have been a good thing though, and I wish you well with your group.

    One of the tools I used in establishing parameters for the group was Maslow's hierarchy. If I could provide an environment which met the basic needs, the group would grow into a thing of true value.

    The other thing I used as an emotional set piece for myself (sort of like setting an emotional thermostat) was to remember that theory about the strength and power in unconditional love.


  4. DammitJanet

    DammitJanet Well-Known Member

    One thing I learned in a support group was to never take what was talked about in the support group outside the "walls" of support group.

    Dont have cliques. Dont talk on the phone between sessions about each other. Big NO NO! All the "he said, she said" stuff will kill a group.
  5. Sunlight

    Sunlight Active Member

    I went to divorcecare. the group would first let each person talk a few mins to get to know each other and in later sessions to see what was new for each person since the last mtg. then we would have a topic to discuss. just one like: finances, loneliness, dating, kids

    we all gave input if we wanted to.
    you have to set a time limit otherwise one person can overtake the meeting and not let others input, you also have to have a set time for the mtg to begin and end and be firm otherwise it can go on and on. lol
  6. OTE

    OTE Guest

    I believe that the NAMI puts out info on starting a group. There are lots of others that also help you start a group. You might try working with a proven formula.
  7. Lothlorien

    Lothlorien Active Member

    Just one note....make sure it's not a place to spouse bash. Discuss problems, yes. Support each other, but don't bash. Most women, although dealing with this situation, do not want to listen to other women verbally bash their husbands around them. I belong to a mother's group. When one woman did this at our playgroup, we were quite appalled at how she was just bashing her husband in front of all of us, when we were basically strangers to her.
  8. Lothlorien

    Lothlorien Active Member

    Oh....and good for you! I hope you find some really good friends.
  9. Star*

    Star* call 911

    1.) Get in the car; pack as many of you in there as possible
    2.) Drive to the center of your town
    3.) Wait for a red light
    4.) Get out and run around the car yelling, and screaming
    5.) Get back in
    6.) Mooning is optional
    7.) Return to the meeting

    - Seems like you've covered all the bases except FUN. Support doesn't have to be all sad and woe, what are you going to do that will bring someone back each week wanting more?

    How about a coupla door prizes? Just dollar store stuff but you could have club dues of .25 cents and each week someone is responsible to find 2 items for prizes. Like ROUGHEST WEEK and MOST PROGRESS

    Sinful desserts - you gotta room full of women you need chocolate and for that one pita - a non-fat, low carb bag of something good for you.

    A picture contest....draw how you feel. Winner gets a pen and pad

    Everyone bring a clean joke time

    I loved going to our group meetings but everyone was always so on edge and so serious. Which reminds me...the .25 dues could be for kleenex. Yerrr gonna get some criers.

    Picture of your husbands arranged on a nice frame

    Tours of mental health day programs, guest speakers.

    Believe me, I live with depression every day. The last thing I want is to go hear about someone else's horribly, rotten, terrible bad time because IRREGARDLESS of how bad YOUR day is, mine will be worse because my problems belong to me. Make if fun and make people want to come back

    GAME NIGHT....yahtzee, bunco.....and you talk about solutions while you're shootin' dice?

    Just mixin it up??
  10. Lothlorien

    Lothlorien Active Member

    I agree with ya is always important. Movie Nights, pot luck dinners....Bunco is a riot, especially when a few have had a little too much "whine" with their cheese.