Starting a Support Group

Why a Support Group?

A support group provides a safe and accepting environment where participants can share their common concerns and learn about possible solutions and strategies from one another.  Members are accepting and non-judgmental as they have all faced the same kinds of problems.

Coordinate with Others

Your community may have an organization that’s related to your particular concern.  For example, the Winnipeg Ménière’s Support Group is sponsored by the Canadian Hard of Hearing Association (CHHA), Manitoba Chapter.  Several members of the support group also belong to CHHA Manitoba Chapter, and enjoy the benefits of attending chapter meetings, receiving the chapter newsletter as well as the national newsletter, and belonging to a community with a common interest in hearing loss and related disorders.

Meeting Schedule and Format

Meeting should be scheduled on a regular basis.  Some meetings can be group discussions focusing on one area of concern.  As well, it can be helpful to invite guest speakers from time to time, to present information about a specific area of interest.  Doctors, dieticians, therapists and other professionals are often willing to speak free of charge at a support group as they recognize the importance of providing educational information to the public through these types of groups.

Following is a sample invitation to a prospective guest speaker:  Our support group is for people with (provide your group’s focus).  We understand that you have a good understanding in this condition and hope that you would be available to give a presentation to our group at an upcoming meeting (provide potential meeting dates and times).  Please contact me at (phone, email) if you have any questions.  I look forward to hearing from you.  Sincerely (your name and title – e.g. meeting coordinator)

Discussion meetings also offer learning opportunities as members share their experiences as well as information that has helped them cope with their problem.  Discussion meetings are usually facilitated by a chairperson to ensure everyone has an opportunity to speak if they wish, and to curtail side-discussions and interruptions.  Posting or distributing an agenda with the discussion topic listed is a good idea.

Sometimes a DVD presentation can be helpful if appropriate material is available.  Members watch the video together and then have a round-table discussion about the subject.  Occasional social functions can also work well – for example a pot-luck lunch – to help members get to know each other better.

Promotion

Meetings can be promoted through free public service announcements provided by many media outlets:  newspapers, radio, television, and on-line.  Posters at clinics, libraries, schools and other locations may also help.  Sometimes a reporter will even conduct an interview with a group member as a human-interest story.  Members who are interviewed must be able to articulate the purpose of the support group and explain how it has helped them with their problem.

Meeting Location

Meeting space may be available for free in a community centre, seniors’ centre, hospital or library.  The meeting place must be accessible to accommodate those with mobility issues.  Other considerations include parking, access to kitchen facilities to make coffee, lighting, safety, etc.

Getting Started

It just takes one person to get the ball rolling with a support group.  When others with the same issues learn about the group they are eager to join.  Maintaining a contact phone list, and asking other members to help with meeting planning and set-up keeps everyone interested so the group can thrive.  Leaders of other support groups may be willing to let you attend one of their meetings to help you understand the process before you start your own group.