Setting your self-help group up for success

Mission/Vision  Statement:

Many  groups  have  mission  or  vision  statements  that  include  phrases such as “…so that others do not have to suffer alone,” or “…in the hope that we might find a cure,” or “…so  that  recovery  may  occur.”  If  your  group  includes  a  message  of  hope and  recovery  in  it,  and  the  group  stays on goal by periodically revisiting its mission and evaluating the group, then this can help members chart a course to recovery.

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Setting group goals

As a group, set goals that will help both the group and the individual members grow. Involve all of the members in this process and let members decide which parts of the goal they will help achieve. Such goals may include outreaching to the community and professionals to teach them about your condition, illness, situation, etc., or developing a member-written booklet on the symptoms, recovery methods, recipes, etc. that can help others stay well.

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Setting individual goals

Without taking personal responsibility for the goals, achievement is unlikely.

The group members can help each other to break down all of the things that need to be accomplished to achieve parts of the goal, and each individual activity. Goal setting and goal achieving can be beneficial for the entire group as well. Hearing about the successes within the group with the same diagnosis can serve to inspire hope and action in others.

Celebrating small successes

Whenever a member sets and meets a goal, use it as a cause for celebration.  Don’t wait for huge gains, even the smallest step forward counts towards the journey forward.

Promoting Positive Problem Solving:

Sometimes it is forgotten that problems are a part of life…not  a  symptom.

Set- backs and relapses can feel overwhelming and devastating at times.  As a group leader, helping the members to overcome and learn from problems can be a very useful for everyone in the group and a reminder it is all part o the journey.

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Experiential Group Discussion

The group discussion is often referred to as the centre of a self-help group.  Being able to talk about one’s inner -most feelings in a safe, caring and respectful environment are the pinnacle to what a support group can offer.  Most groups are structured so that each member has a chance to speak as they wish. Afterwards, the other members might be encouraged to share (using  “I”  statements) the  strategies that have worked for them.

Sharing encourages an exchange and development of coping strategies, as well as helping members to feel good about themselves. Not only they personally looking for answers, but they are also helping others at the same time.  In a support group, their diagnosis suddenly becomes a way to positively share their experiences and solutions with others.

Encouraging members to problem solve

Essentially problem solving is not about giving advice.  After a member has shared their personal story or problem, but before the other members chime in to share their own experiences or suggestions, the leader might ask the speaker such open-ended questions as “How can we help you?” or “What kind  of  assistance  are  you  looking  for?”  The  leader  (or  other  members)  might  also  ask,  “What  have  you  tried  already to help solve your problem?” “What worked?” “What didn’t?” “What else would you like to try to solve your problem?”

Certainly before you automatically turn the discussion over to get other members feedback or suggestions, ask the speaker, “Would you like feedback or suggestions from the other group members?” If the answer is no, this should  be  respected, however if  they  would  like suggestions,  encourage  members  to  phrase  their  experiences in “I” statements such as, “When I isolate I find that calling my friends really helps me. What helps you?”  Remember,  the  ultimate  goal  of  a  support  group  is  to  help  people  to  become  self-reliant  individuals, not dependent on advice on others for their wellbeing,  armed with the tools to help them deal effectively with their problems.

Discourage advice giving but encourage an exchange of ideas, suggestions and strategies that have worked for others.  In order for persons to achieve self-determination they must be empowered to learn to make their own decisions, to decide what is right for them and with this comes personal responsibility for self.  Allowing a person to come to their own decision helps build a sense of personal control,  empowerment, and self-esteem.

Learning from unfulfilled goals

Not all goals will be met; nor will all steps be going forward. Encourage  group  members  to  see  the  learning  experience  in  any  attempt  made  that  was  not  fulfilled.

If a member has a problem, have them ask, “What can I learn from this?” Allow them to role-play how they might have acted differently. Help them to identify the problem. Help turn bad experiences into learning experiences, which helps build self-esteem  and  confidence.  Brainstorm different solutions and  have  the  person  choose  an  approach.  Have them evaluate the approach and choose another if necessary.  Lead a group discussion on “Lessons Learned from Failures” to teach the members that good can come from failure.

Become Solution Focused

Although people need to vent frustrations, deal with anger or talk about problems, group leaders can also guide  people  toward  thinking  and  talking  about  possible solutions.

For every problem that is brought up, problem-solving strategies can also be utilized to leave the person (and the other members, for that matter) with hope and a possible solution. Have members talk about their own personal strengths.

Share your strengths with others and offer the opportunity to tell each other what strengths they find in each other.  This  helps  members  to  see  themselves,  not  as  victims,  but  as survivors.  Use a recovery focus such as “What do you do to deal with your problems?” This prevents turning the group into a ‘why me’ session and venting  unproductively  about  problems.

If venting occurs, which is commonplace, turn the discussion into identifying challenges and actively problem solve them. There are many small group or individual exercises that can help a person (or group) to brainstorm solutions to difficult problems. These exercises can be used inside or outside the group, either individually or in groups.

Use Wellness & Recovery Activities in the Group

There are hundreds of small group exercises, individual programs and group activities specifically geared toward wellness and recovery. They might include problem-solving  exercises,  activities  that  uncover  individual  talents,  WRAP (Wellness  Recovery  Action  Program),  group  decision  making,  etc.  Bring  some  of  these  into  the  group  to  encourage  members  to  discover  and  use  many type of wellness tools (hundreds of group exercises can be found on the internet,)

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Help Develop Social Skills

For many self-help group members, belonging to a group may be a way in which to learn real-life social skills. These skills may have been forgotten as the person has had to deal with chronic pain or conditions which has taken up a lot of their time and energy. Assisting members to renew connection, ask and receive help, develop a network in a safe and understanding environment allows social skills to come to the fore and develop strongly.

Effective  Role Modelling in group skills:

Although it may seem to be a natural activity, learning to be a good, respectful group member (or leader) may take some time and effort. The leader can help facilitate this transformation by developing good ground rules for the group, being an effective role model, and dealing with bad behaviours swiftly and fairly.  Group  members  might  learn  such  skills  as  active  listening,  empathy,  acceptance, etc.

As  the  leader,  remember  that  this  is  also your  group  and  that  you  should  share  your  problems and solutions—just like any other members. But keep in mind that you should never talk longer than the other members. Also, as a leader do not patronise, teach, lecture, or be the “know it all.” Empower the other group members by letting them be an integral part of the group.

Although most  group  leaders  are  not  trained  in  conflict management or mediation, many learn how to handle difficult behaviours in a fair and effective manner. Through active listening, exploring “win-win” situations and dealing with difficulties quickly, leaders can teach other group members some of the fine art of negotiation.

Education Helps People Gain  Greater  Control:

With  the  wealth  of  knowledge  on  the  internet,  people  are  beginning to educate themselves more about their health issues. This, coupled with the experiential knowledge shared  by  groups  members, can  help  people  keep  abreast  of  new  treatments,  research  and  medications.  This  shift  in  the  locus  of  control  also  adds  to  feeling  of  empowerment, self-determination and independence.

Having  Meaningful  Rituals :

Many  groups  have  rituals  or  “check  outs”  during  their  meetings  which  solicit  positive responses. Some questions that members may respond to before the end of the meeting might be: “This one thing I’ll do for myself this week is…” “The main lesson I learned today is…,” “This week I will look for strengths in this part of my life…,”