Self-help groups, by their very makeup, do a great job in promoting wellness and recovery in persons experiencing mental illness, physical disabilities, or other life altering events. Many of the benefits of self-help groups come in the form of hope, support, education and taking personal responsibility for recovery. With some tweaking of a group’s format, a subtle change in leadership roles and responsibilities, a well thought out mission statement, focused group discussions, sensitive group guidelines, and the addition of specific wellness and recovery group activities, self-help groups have the potential to offer a greater positive impact for persons in recovery.
Create and Maintain a Safe and Trusting Environment:
In order for the success to occur of a self-help support group, members must feel safe to share their ideas and feelings, experience and issues, at a meaningful level. Without this trust, the group discussions become stilted, forced and ultimately meaningless.
Members will not share at the deep, healing levels if they are afraid that others will talk outside about their personal feelings and experiences outside of the group. Have a group discussion on what confidentiality means to your members, and outline rules to members and new members as you will be surprised how differently people define the word confidentiality. If confidentiality is ever broken, deal with it immediately, and reinforce the need for confidentiality to all. Take all breaches seriously and make sure that the person whose confidentially was breached is safe and has the proper coping mechanisms to deal with the issue.
Many groups have a list of rules for their group and people sign a confidentiality clause to become a member.
Welcome every member at the door with a smile and make them feel welcome. It can be a nice idea to introduce them to someone to sit next too and ensure that they are made to feel part of the group from the beginning. They will be probably feeling unsure and shy, so there is no pressure to speak unless they want to. Make sure that members don’t judge or criticise anyone else’s ideas, this puts a dampener on anyone sharing. Remember to try to understand the “world view” of others, their cultures, beliefs, and experiences. Beware of “group think” where new ideas are not welcomed by the veteran group members. Discourage cliquish behaviours among group members.
There is no greater gift that you can give another person than to listen.
Listening conveys a powerful message of validation and interest. By listening, you help others to sort out their thoughts so they can make better decisions for themselves. And listening to them validates for them that their issues are worth talking about.
In order to listen actively, pay attention to both the verbal and non-verbal cues. Lean towards the person. You can also ask questions to get more information. What greater gift can you give someone than to say, “Tell me more.” Be empathetic not sympathetic and put yourself in the other person’s shoes, but don’t walk their path for them! It is their journey after all.
Since storytelling is so integral to the core of self-help groups, it is extremely important the group members learn to listen to each other without other people talking in their own conversations, distractions, pre-conceived ideas, assumptions, or misunderstandings.
Discernment is a neutral position, simply noticing observable facts . Judgment, on the other hand, assigns right or wrong, good or bad, which casts blame. Dealing with challenging behaviour using methods that cause shame and guilt seldom work effectively, more often it is a quiet word that gets the job done.
Wellness & Recovery Goals:
During the initial check-in, have members focus on something positive (e.g., “One good thing that happened to me since the last meeting was…….”). Use small group exercises and ice breakers as a fun, informative way to discover strengths, wellness tools, prevent problems and develop bonds.
At the end of the meeting, have members answer a positive, thought provoking question such as, “The main lesson I learned at this meeting was…..” or “I am going to look for my strengths this week by…..”
The Basic Needs of the Members:
All people have certain needs. As a facilitator, you can help your members to feel welcome, comfortable, valued, safe, understood, cared for, interested, etc. You can help build strong relationships between members.
- Provide hope at every opportunity
- Encourage members to stay with the group to give feedback to the new members.
- In the group use person-first, non-medical language.
- Have honest, direct communication.
- Confront others with sensitivity when necessary
- Never allow others to be hurtful to each other
- Discourage stigma and discrimination among members.