As a support group leader for twenty years, I’ve experienced highs and lows. I love the work but there are times when it’s also exhausting. Here are some wisdoms from throughout the years that might help.
- Be Honest About Your State Of Mind – Don’t try to help someone on the phone if you’re feeling cranky, annoyed or distracted. It’s important that you
- Illness & Having Backup Facilitators – In fifteen years, I missed about four meetings and I panicked when that happened. When I had co-leaders (they both moved out of state), it was easy. They covered the meetings perfectly. But when I was a group leader working by myself, I was forced to cancel a few meetings because I wasn’t feeling well.
- Pick A Convenient Location FOR YOU – In the first five years, we met in a nearby city that was about a 45 minute drive for me which was pretty rough on bad IC days. I relocated our group meetings to my own town and this made it much easier for me. And, hey, since I was doing all of the work setting up the meetings, I didn’t feel inconveniencing a few members who had to drive a bit farther.
- Find your own support buddies – I’ve talked with several group leaders who, like me, actually felt left out. Why, because our members saw us as the leaders and kind of forgot that we needed support too. I found myself envying members who had created really close friendships while I, at the front of the room, was thinking “I’d like to be friends too.” So, don’t forget that you need support too.. and as you create events, let your members know that you’d like to do informal, fun things with them too.
- Beware the holiday season – Meetings in December are rough because most patients don’t have time to spend amidst the typical holiday festivities. Hold your meeting early in the month or, better yet, switch it over to a January meeting
- To Party or Not to Party – We held a couple of holiday parties over the years but, as the group got older, fewer people attended. Don’t exhaust yourself trying to create a holiday event. Rather, ask anyone who is interested to lunch instead.
- Don’t Hold Meetings At Your House – Your personal space and safety is essential. When you hold a meeting in a public space, if someone falls or trips, then that liability is carried by the location. If you hold it at your house and someone is hurt, then you may have some liability. But, even more so, don’t invite strangers into your personal space and home. Wait until you really know your members before you open your door. I will share that I only did this a few times as a support group leader. I was more comfortable meeting at our local hospital, especially with an emergency room and medical professionals so close.
- Time Stealers – You may notice that some patients consume large amounts of your time, often asking the same question over and over again. It finally dawned on me that these patients wanted me to solve their problems and really weren’t absorbing the information that I was giving them, such as diet, etc. You have to be firm with these patients. I got to the point where I said “I spent an hour with you last month talking about this. Didn’t you try any of that?” With some gentle confrontation, these patients realized that they really did have to apply themselves
- Build A Thick Skin – If you choose to run an internet group, be forewarned that you cannot please everyone, every day. There will be times when patients disagree with you and, given the internet, may rant and rage. It’s important that you stick to YOUR rules and, if necessary, ask them to leave the group if they are causing a disruption. Don’t take their criticism personally. If they would like to do something differently, encourage them to start their own group.