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.
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.
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.
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,)
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…,”