How To Start & Facilitate A Support Group In 6 Steps

Wanting to know how to start a support group? How can you make your support group run successfully? I can help! 

In this article, I’m going to share steps on how to start and run a successful support group. I’ve been facilitating successful men’s support groups for over 10 years. During that time I’ve learned a few things about starting a support group and how to make it thrive

Sean Galla

Written by

Sean Galla

An experienced facilitator, community builder, and mental health advocate, Sean has been running men's groups for 10+ years. Read Sean's Full Author Bio.

 

Let’s start with the basics: 

What is a support group? 

A support group is a group of people with similar goals who provide each other with guidance and advice in an effort to see more personal growth. Support groups are a place for people to get things off their chest and get some advice from others who have been through similar things. Attendees of a support group with similar challenges come together to share ways to navigate their situations and to feel a sense of community.

Technically this kind of supportive discussion group is known as a peer support group

Common topics discussed in support groups? 

Topics vary from group to group. These are the most common support groups topics we see during in our men’s groups:

  • Divorce
  • Being a better dad
  • Improving mental health
  • Addiction to porn, food, alcohol, drugs
  • Communicating better
  • Understanding emotions
  • Career and/or purpose confusion
  • Personal finance issues

Benefits of support groups?

With your support group by your side, you will most likely experience the following benefits:

  • Become more successful in work and life
  • Get through a divorce in a productive and healthy way
  • Save money over other similar options
  • Be a better father and/or getting through co-parenting 
  • A place to vent
  • Experience more happiness
  • A healthier romantic relationship
  • Communicating better with family members & loved ones
  • Save time and energy compared to going it alone. 

How To Start A Support Group

Research before starting your support group 

You might be asking yourself before starting your support group: “What qualifications do I need to start a support group?” The answer is surprisingly, very little to no qualifications. Support groups are not about finding cures to diseases or fixing deep mental issues. That is for trained professional counselors & mental health professionals. 

In a support group, people are attending to share what they’re facing, get stuff off their chest and receive guidance from others who have been through something similar. 

You will also want to know who will be interested in joining your support group. Start with your friends, family, coworkers, anyone you know if they have some insight on who else would like to join. You can ask them to refer their friends to you via word of mouth. You could also go the old fashioned way and put up fliers at supermarkets, the post office, health food stores in your local community, advertise it in the local newspaper, on bulletin boards, etc. Online advertisements are also an easy way to reach people. 

How to get a support group started

Here are things you will need to iron out before starting your divorce support group:

  1. How often should the discussion group meet?
  2. Where should the meeting place be (community center, online) ?
  3. Are your meetings going to be virtual or in-person?
  4. If virtual, what is the best way to communicate? Zoom, Facetime, etc. 
  5. What age group are you wanting to invite? Is everyone welcome who are over 18?
  6. Are you going to be the support group leader or are you going to find someone else to run the meetings?
  7. What is the duration of the meetings?
  8. Is the meeting open or closed? Basically, can people join after the group has started? 
  9. What are the group rules?
  10. How many people are welcome to join? The more the merrier or smaller the better?

Once these support group questions are answered, you’ll be all set to have your meeting! 

How to facilitate a support group

Below you will find a good summary of a support group format agenda. This list has been generated from our own experience running support groups and also a long list of support group facilitation studies.  These steps can vary from group to group, but this will be a reference when you’re starting out to make sure everything will run smoothly with your supportive group:

faciliate a support group

Welcome the group members

As group members arrive for their first meeting, they will be a little intimidated. Accordingly, you will want to say a quick hello to each support group member. Be excited to see them. Greet them with a warm smile and ask them a few questions. Do this with each support group member and it will put them at ease to start the meeting.  

An introduction will help break the ice. Introducing yourself and explaining why you are here is standard practice. 

You don’t have to get personal right away. Asking guys what they’re excited about in life or what their hobbies are is a great place to start. 

Set support group rules

Setting some ground rules will be beneficial before starting your support group. Telling your group the rules before the meeting is the best way to go. Some rules that have worked well for us are:

  1. Confidentiality is the most important rule. This needs to be set in stone before starting the support group. If people are nervous that their words might be spread around town, they won’t be open to chatting and probably won’t come back to your support group. 
  2. Show up on time. This goes for yourself and the support group members. This is pretty straightforward. 
  3. No interrupting the facilitator or any group members. This probably seems obvious to most, but some people have issues with this. Listening is as important as speaking during support groups.
  4. Actually listen to each group member. Give feedback when needed; nod your head when you agree with what they are saying. Basically, don’t be a dick and be daydreaming when guys are sharing something important.
  5. If you give out an accountability task, make sure all the attendees do it. It could be as simple as being asked to write down 3 things they have made progress on since the previous meeting.

Best format for starting a support group

This should take no longer than 3-5 minutes per person. Some people might be more open with having their voice heard in the room and it could go the other way as well. Whatever the case, make sure everyone speaks during this time but also does not exceed the 5-minute limit.

A check-in question could be as simple as “how are you doing?” 

How to start a support group discussion 

  1. You’ll have a group of questions beforehand that you will ask so don’t get stuck looking like a deer in headlights. 
  2. Start with the first discussion question which we suggest should be “Let’s go around and tell the group why we are here.” Even just hearing what other guys are facing in their lives will facilitate other men to open up as well. 
  3. Allow guys to speak. Give them time. This isn’t about you. Good facilitation is really just good listening.
  4. Facilitate other support group members to contribute. Like “I know Joe has some experience with that. Do you mind sharing to help Michael, Joe?”
  5. Don’t be afraid to jump in and cut people off. Good support group facilitation involves making sure that nobody is rambling or dominating the conversation.
  6. One other key facilitation suggestion for support groups: don’t allow people to give advice. Instead, encourage them to share their own experience and lessons learned. So instead of “you should do this”, a group member could say “Here’s what I did. Here’s what I learned”. A good men’s group facilitator needs to lead by example and step in whenever others try to give advice. 

The good news is that as you get started facilitating support groups, you will naturally learn how to do it better.

How to end the discussion

After an hour or two, it will be time to facilitate the closing of the discussion. The best way to do this is to say, “It’s getting to the time we’d agreed that we’d stop, so I think we will wrap up for the evening.”

Asking for any additional comments or concerns that group members may have. An example would be, “We talked a lot about our partners tonight. Are there any last thoughts anyone would like to add?”

Some groups will go around the circle before the end and share their observations and gratitude for the support group. 

Then set reminders for the next meeting. Such as, “our next meeting will be on Thursday, May 23rd at 8:00 p.m. at this same location. I look forward to seeing you then.”

You’ll find your own groove as you get going.

Make notes for next meeting

Right after the meeting, take some notes about what was discussed while it is fresh in your mind. This information can be helpful for the next meeting. This is important: Keep any notes in a safe place to make sure that everything is confidential.

Also, ask group members for feedback on their experience in your support group and for you as the support group facilitator. This will help you refine your support group facilitator skills. 

You’ve already put some time into this group, so don’t take hours on the notes if you don’t have that type of time. Just write down the main points that were discussed so they are not forgotten for next week. 

how to start a support group

How to keep a support group going

A list of tips to keep your support group running successfully:

Ask for support

If you are overwhelmed with being the facilitator, ask for support. If one of your duties is to put together questions for next week. But if you are working 2 full-time jobs and your partner is sick, ask someone else in the group to put questions together. 

Continue to ask for feedback 

Ask members for their take on how the support group is going. Find out how useful they find your support group, how comfortable they feel, and their likes and dislikes about the group. If you are getting all positive feedback, that is great! Keep doing what you are doing. If you are getting some constructive feedback, make sure to make adjustments before the next group meeting. 

Keep everything confidential 

Make sure everything your group members are talking about will not leave the room. And make sure you tell your group members about this. That will help your group members open up and keep coming back. 

Keep growing the support group

If this is an open group, make sure you keep advertising and making sure the word is out about your support group. Some people will not show up at the next meeting. In fact, as the facilitation, you should expect to have a few members miss the support group meeting, even if it’s an online support group. Also, realize they are not ready for a group setting, so recruiting people to join the group will help fill the gaps. 

Celebrate success:

Make sure you give credit where it is due. These can even be even the smallest victories such as a group member who is struggling with their physical or mental health, and they ate healthily for most days that week. Many people don’t get praise or positive affirmation, so a little bit of excitement for their progress can go a long way!

Starting a support group isn’t easy

A lot of people think that starting a support group is easy. Just throw a few people into a group and have a meeting right?

Unfortunately, this isn’t true. There is a ton of admin work that goes on behind the scenes when starting or running a support group. Finding the best meeting times, keeping group members happy, sending out meeting reminders, selling potential new members on joining, actively listening, and facilitating, taking notes, and more.

A lot of people try to start their own support group and they end up giving up after a few meetings because it’s a lot to manage!

Instead of starting your own, you could also join a support group out there. There are lots of incredible in-person and online support groups out there you could check out. You could also check out one of our free support groups here at men’s group to see if it’s a good fit for you.

Conclusion 

Support groups are an effective way to provide support and guidance to a group of people without a huge investment of time or money. 

If you are wanting to start a support group, our advice is to just get out and do it. There are very few risks in doing so. You’ll learn more about how to start and facilitate a support group as you go. 

We hope this step by step guide helps you start your support group up and get it up and running!

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