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How to Start a Support Group

Three Parts:Finding HelpPlanning Your Support GroupStarting Your Support Group

Living through difficult circumstances can be emotionally and mentally exhausting. Having a support group can make you feel less lonely or stressed and give you a sense of control over your situation.[1] Even if you don't currently know anyone who has gone through your unique experiences, you can seek out the advice of others and build a community of support.

Part 1
Finding Help

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    Look for existing groups. Chances are that at least one national group, focused on your particular concern, already exists. You may be able to join an existing group, or if no groups exist in your area, then you may be able to form a "satellite group" if you share common values and interests.[2]
    • To find any existing national group, search for the terms or conditions you are seeking with the words "support group". You can also narrow your search to your local city or county.
    • Obtain any how-to guide, or group starter kit, that the national organization offers (many provide them free online). If there's no national group, see if your search results revealed any "model group" elsewhere in the world, which you can contact and duplicate in your area. Try social groups sites and social media pages to see if local groups exists.
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    Ask other groups how they got started. Learning from others, even if their group addresses different needs than the group you want to start, can help you plan out everything you'll need from the ground up.
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    Seek out professional assistance before you start a support group. That way, once you organize your group, you will have the guidance you need to get started. Social service workers, clergy, and physicians or therapists may be helpful in various ways, from providing referrals or meeting space to locating other needed resources.[3]

Part 2
Planning Your Support Group

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    Understand your motivation for starting a support group. While it's perfectly acceptable to need the support of others, you should not start a support group solely for your own needs. Use your experience and your understanding of what you need to offer that support mutually, ensuring that everyone in your group will have the support that they need for their problems.[4]
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    Determine the scope of your group. You want to help as many people as possible, but if a group gets too large it may be difficult to allow everyone adequate speaking time. At the same time, you don't want to be too narrow and restrictive with your group's parameters. Knowing the ideal scope of your group will help you when it comes time to open your group to others.[5]
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    Determine whether your support group will be a temporary, short-term/seasonal entity, or a permanent, full-time group. Knowing whether you will be working under time restraints will help you plan out your group's agenda and determine what needs to be accomplished and when.[6]
    • Ask yourself whether the issues you hope to address are permanent, life-long issues, or issues that are temporary or cyclical. Support for people living with chronic health problems will probably require a permanent group, but a support group for students struggling in school, for example, will probably not need to meet during the summer, when school is out.
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    Consider how often your group should meet. Are the issues pressing enough to warrant weekly or even twice-weekly meetings? Will participants need time to implement strategies and plan for future meetings? Is there a support-system in place in case of emergencies during the time between meetings?
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    Determine your group's format. The three most common support group formats worth considering:
    • Curriculum-based - in which readings are "assigned" and discussions center around a given reading's issues.
    • Topic-based - in which topics are introduced and discussion centers around that week's topic.
    • Open forum - in which there is no pre-determined structure, and discussion topics vary as members bring them up.[7]
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    Find a suitable meeting place and time. Try to obtain free or very low cost meeting space at a local church, library, community center, hospital, or social service agency. Chairs should be arranged in a circle and avoid a lecture set-up.[8]
    • Look for a room capacity slightly higher than your anticipated crowd size. Too big of a meeting space will feel cavernous and empty; too small will feel cramped and uncomfortable.
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    Reach out to like-minded people. Find a few others who share your interest in starting a group by circulating a flyer or letter that specifically cites how to contact you if one is interested in "joining with others to help start" such a group. You may also want to ask people you know to refer you to others who might be interested.[9]
    • Include your first name, phone number, and any other relevant information.
    • Make copies and post them at places you feel are appropriate, e.g., at local community website, library, community center, clinic, or post office.
    • Mail copies to key people who you think would know others like yourself. Submit your notice to newspapers and church bulletins. Also, check to see if there is a local "self-help group clearinghouse" serving your area to help you get started.
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    Advertise your support group's meetings in rounds. Send out an initial notification several weeks in advance (if possible), then a follow-up notification a few days to one week before the event. This will help maximize exposure and remind interested parties that an event is approaching.[10]

Part 3
Starting Your Support Group

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    Run meetings efficiently. After deciding on the format and frequency of your group, you'll need to focus on how best to run each meeting. Your group may benefit from having some kind of structure/schedule, but it's important to be fluid and open to the needs of your members.[11]
    • Make your group's objectives clear. If there is a schedule, stick to it.[12]
    • Be punctual, and ask that your members are also punctual.
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    Draft a mission statement or a statement of purpose. This should be done with the help and input of your core group of co-founders, so that everyone feels that they are a part of the process and can provide insight on what they hope to get out of the meetings. The mission statement should provide a structural framework for the group's values, purpose, and goals, and what will be done to meet those goals.
    • Your mission statement should be brief and to the point. Aim for 2-3 sentences at most.
    • Focus on intended outcomes rather than methods when drafting your mission statement.
    • With the help of your core group of co-founders, discuss and revise your mission statement.
    • Do not make any promises of success or achievement in your mission statement. Promising results may deter members from returning if they do not achieve those results in a forecasted time period.[13]
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    Share responsibilities and delegate work in the group. Decide who will be the primary contact person/people for the group. Consider additional roles members can play in making the group work.[14]
    • Decide which tasks you're willing to trust to others in the group. Appoint those tasks with an understanding that each role will include great responsibilities.
    • Be clear in giving instructions and laying out the terms of each role.
    • Give credit to everyone who contributes. Let them know that their efforts are appreciated.
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    Choose a name for your group. Share a few options at your first meeting for additional feedback and ideas from members before deciding. The naming process should be a fun aspect of creating a support group, and should allow everyone to have equal input.[15]
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    Publicize and run your first public meeting. Permit ample time for your core group members to describe their interest and work, while allowing others the opportunity to share their view of what they would like to see the support group do.
    • Identify common needs the group can address.
    • Determine whether you should enact a confidentiality policy to keep information shared at your meetings from leaving the group. This may put members at ease and make those who feel reluctant to share their experiences more comfortable going forward.[16]
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    Make plans for the next meeting. Allow everyone to socialize informally after the meeting to reinforce the sense of community and mutual support. You should also pass around a mailing/contact sheet either before or after each meeting to keep contact information up to date.[17]


  • Develop a list of referrals for those who need more help than the group can provide. Have copies readily available. The list could include:
    • psychiatrists
    • psychologists
    • licensed clinical social workers
    • clergy
    • crisis hotlines


  • Don't allow an upset or angry person to disrupt or dominate the group discussion. The leader or facilitator could arrange in advance to have an assistant help diffuse these situations as they arise. He or she could quietly ask the disruptive person to come with them into the next room, or outside, so they can calm down and continue discussing the issue in private.

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Categories: Emotional Conditions