Starting a Support Group
If you can’t find a support group that meets your needs, consider starting one of your own. It’s not a difficult thing to do. One simple way to do this is to invite several people you know to come to a meeting and encourage them to invite other friends as well. Setting it up with another person makes the process easier and more fun. There are many options for groups and there is no one “right way” for a group to be. The following ideas may help:
- When a group is always open to new members, it may be difficult to be closely connected to the other members and to share personal information. For this reason, the group may want to put restrictions around when people may come into the group. Group members can decide if the group will always be open to new members (an open group) or if it will accept members until a certain number of members has been reached or until a certain date and then no longer be open to new members (a closed group).
- Sometimes, groups get so big they become hard to manage. You may want to restrict your group to a certain number of participants. If a group is so big that not everyone gets a chance to speak and be supported, or if there are so many people in the group that people can’t get to know each other well, you may want to divide the group into smaller groups.
- Decide when you want to meet and for how long. Many support groups meet in the evening, but they can meet any time that is convenient for the members.
- Find a place to hold the meetings. Libraries, churches, schools, hospitals and health care agencies are good places to look for free space to use for support group meetings. If there is a charge for the space, you might have to ask group members to pay dues or to pay a certain amount each time they attend. If your group is small and is limited to a few people who know each other well, you may decide to hold the meetings in one person’s home or to take turns hosting the meeting.
- Depending on the kind of group you are starting, you may need to think about or discuss how you are going to get people to come to the group. You may want to:
- Ask each person who has worked on setting up the group to invite several friends or others he or she knows by personal invitation, phoning them, mailing them a note, or sending them an e-mail;
- Put a notice of the meetings in the local newspaper or newspapers;
- Ask your local radio station or stations to announce the group;
- Ask that the group be listed on your local community access television bulletin board; or
- Hang posters describing the group in places where interested people might congregate (for instance, if it is a group for people with a particular illness, you might put up posters in doctors’ offices and hospital waiting rooms).
Formats for support groups vary widely. The members of the support group decide how they want the meetings to be. If things don’t work well one way, the group can choose to do them another way.
Support Groups Are One Piece of a Plan
I hope this article has helped you to understand the value of support groups and given you information that will be helpful if you decide you want to be a member of a support group.
While I feel that the right support group is a valued addition to anyone’s life, please remember that it cannot be expected to meet all of your needs for support. A support group can be one part of your plan for wellness, but does not replace the need to maintain close connections with your family and friends, nor does it substitute for having people available with whom you can share the details of your daily life.
Mary Ellen Copeland, Ph.D. is an author, educator and mental health recovery advocate, as well as the developer of WRAP (Wellness Recovery Action Plan). To learn more about her books, such as the popular The Depression Workbook and Wellness Recovery Action Plan, her other writings, and WRAP, please visit her website, Mental Health Recovery and WRAP. Reprinted here with permission.