..is not led by a mental health professional. It provides a safe community for people who share a common concern. It is not therapy.
..should have between 6 and 14 members.
..is for the narrowly defined participant, i.e., a support group for those with a family member with a mental illness is just that, not for friends, not for the ill person.
..should meet at the same time on the same day of the month, a group could meet weekly, bimonthly or monthly. The meeting place should be easily accessible yet offer privacy.
..is lead by 2 or 3 people who have agreed to hold the position for a specified term. Leadership should be consistent. They will agree to facilitate the meetings and remind members of upcoming meetings by email or telephone.
..is a covenanted group. There should be no drop-ins. New members should only be included after they have met with a leader of sponsoring clergy and understand the structure and responsibilities of membership. Perhaps the best solution is to set a time several months after the first meeting when new members will be welcome to join the group if there is space.
..is sponsored by the congregation as indicated by a designated member of the clergy or lay leader who speaks regularly with the group leaders to ascertain the health of the group, offer a sounding board, give space and freedom to discuss any problems, and help resolve those problems where appropriate. There may be members who drop out should be contacted so they know they are missed and that someone is concerned about them.
How to get started
Seek the support of your congregation’s governing body. At this time there may be obvious choices about leadership.
Announce the formation of the group in the church communication organs, eNewsletters, bulletins, and from the pulpit.
Be sure the method for response is clear and confidential. Those desiring to join such a group might email a pastor, priest, or one specific person on the church staff. They should be contacted by telephone to discuss the purpose and norms of a peer support group.
If leaders are not already selected, you will find them in those who respond to the invitation to be a part of the group.
If the group will have members outside the congregation be clear about the spiritual nature of your community as embodied in the support group.
Set the date for the first meeting. Leaders contact those who have sought membership to give them the specifics and express welcome.
The sponsoring clergy or lay person will meet with the chosen leaders to discuss how to word the purpose of the group, group norms, and the agenda.
The First Meeting
This is the time to discuss the purpose of the group and set the group norms. The sponsoring clergy or congregational leader and the leaders of the group should have formulated a clear idea of the purpose of the group before this first meeting.
Group norms must be agreed upon by the entire group. The leaders will have the basic ones in mind and encourage discussion.
Norms include some obvious ones and your group may develop others as well:
- Confidentiality, what is said in the support group should not be repeated. Members will not talk about the group discussion or its members outside of the meeting.
- The members are not here to offer therapy or fixes rather to listen and share.
- Respectful listening is always a desired norm.
- Punctuality and commitment to attend regularly are important.
- Do you need to talk about how to deal with members who cannot stop talking or who get off purpose?
- How long would the group like to have each meeting? An hour and a half perhaps or more.
It will be the responsibility of the leaders to remind the group when the norms are ignored or forgotten.
The agenda of a support group meeting.
Here is a suggested agenda. Your group should develop its own.
· Begin with a brief meditation, a few moments of silence, a piece of music.
· The agenda will include a very brief check in when each person, the turn moving in order around the group, in a sentence or two expresses how they are at the moment. There are simple questions the leaders can ask to facilitate this, i.e. what kind of weather has your week been like?
· Sharing stories, the leaders begin and then each person is encouraged to share openly with the group.
· When each person who would like to speak has done so the group will want to talk together about what they have heard.
· An affirmation of God’s love and the support of the group should be included. This may be a brief reading or prayer.
· Close with a benediction, a prayer, a prayer said together, a song.