How to start an emotional support group (without the help of a specialist)

By 02/06/2015Education

Almost 3 years ago I was doing vocational mentorship sessions with Paul Dumitru, who would eventually become a very dear friend.

I recommended reading a book that seemed to answer his issues back then, “No More Mr. Nice Guy”, and, after devouring it, he came to me with a brilliant idea.

How about starting a study/work group, something like that, with a couple of his friends who were confronting the same issues?

That’s how our group started. It was men exclusive and it was initially named “No More Mr. Nice Guy”, of course. Later on, after we got more insight into it, we changed the name to “Integrated Man”.

We started with 10 guys, we used to meet every 2 weeks, for 2-3 hours and, from time to time, we would organize a boys’ night out , just having fun at a beer.

During these 3 years, we experimented with various meeting format, we met in dozens of different places, we cried and laughed at every meeting, some left and other new members joined, we went through many thing that got us closer and closer, helping us pass through some tough moments in life.

[ut_highlight color=”#ff6e00″] We grew and became wiser together. [/ut_highlight]

What I still find interesting is that, without having a specialist in group therapy, emotional support or AA type groups, we managed to help each other and find the best format for our meetings.

I was reassured that a group of people who are paying attention, are connected and united by a common purpose can discover on they own what they need in order to fulfill that purpose.

I kept talking about this experience in my vocational mentoring workshops and most of the times people would say: “That’s so nice, I want to join you guys!”.

So I answered that they can’t join this group, but I could teach them how to start their own based on my experiences, so as to work on their own needs.

In the end, I decided it is time to share this experience with everybody, with the invitation to get to work and please give feedback!

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So, this is the format of our own emotional support group meetings:

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  1. Before each meeting, we choose a facilitator to plan the next meeting. Basically, he is in charge with finding and reserving the place, telling everyone about it, choosing the starting song, keeping time and making sure that everyone respects the rules. He is the facilitator for the process, not the content.
  2. When we meet, the first 30 minutes, while waiting for everyone to gather, we talk freely about whatever comes across. Relaxing.
  3. The facilitator for that meeting signals the start, we gather around in a circle, and he plays a beautiful and inspirational song on the mobile phone, while we listen mindfully. Silence.
  4. For the next 5 minutes, each takes his turn in saying what is on his mind or what recently happened in their lives, while the others listen carefully, in silence. We don’t comment, ask, give advice, we just listen with empathy. The facilitator keeps track of the 5 minutes (we use the smartphone timer) and, in case, someone feels the need to give advice, the facilitator reminds the rules for this sharing session. If the timer beeps while you’re still talking, you wrap it up shortly. Listening.
  5. The phase before helped us center ourselves and connect with the important problems in our lives, so at the end of the sharing session, the facilitator asks who has an issue that is pressing and that could be shared with the group. One or another says he wants to share something, so after we see how many topics we have, we decide on an order. We try to listen without jumping ahead with advice, maybe asking a clarification question, and after the first finished talking, we create a sharing circle in which everyone shortly shares a similar experience and what helped him handle it. Then, we move on to the next participant and so on. Connecting.
  6. When we are 15-20 minutes ahead of the finishing hour (as agreed before), the facilitator draws attention that we are reaching the end of the meeting. We make a new short sharing circle (without keeping time) with valuable lessons everyone took from that evening, we set the date for our next meeting and the next facilitator, we hug and go home.
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I remind you that these steps are just a recommendation, not fixed rules.

Play with them, experiment whatever inspires you and, in case you reach a wall and don’t know what to do…just listen to your hearts.

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