Components of self-help groups

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.

Reinforcing Confidentiality:

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.

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Honouring Acceptance:

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.

Listening Skills:

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.

Positive Discernment:

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…..”

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What are 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.

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