Support Group Meeting Format & Structure
Balancing The Needs of Newbies Vs. Grizzled Veterans
They main challenge that support group leaders face are the two very distinct types of patients. You’ll have newly diagnosed patients who need comfort, education and an encouraging message. This often conflicts with the needs of grizzled IC veterans who come to meetings because they need support from other patients who are also struggling. The challenge is that the older, more complex patients often scare the newly diagnosed patients. Your support group meeting format will help both groups of patients get the support that they need.
- Introduction – A very quick introduction and welcome statement, with a reading of the disclaimer.
- Guest Speaker – If available.
- Discussion of the latest IC news. Check the latest ICN E-Newsletter for topics and news to share.
- Group Member Introductions – This must be handled very carefully. Do NOT begin the meeting with “Please share your name and tell us how you are feeling today.” This will doom the last half of your meeting to discussions of how badly people fee. Start this section of the meeting by asking members to introduce themselves and then share a quick tip on a topic of your choice, such as:
- “What is your favorite IC friendly food?”
- “What flare coping tip has worked best for you?”
- “What’s one suggestion you offer about working with your doctor?”
- “Tell us one thing that you’ve done in the last month that you’re really proud of?”
- “What’s your “go to” bathroom stop in your town?”
As group leader, make sure you write down their answers on a white board! What’s great about this is that you’ve immediately given those newly diagnosed patients quick and easy information that they can use after the meeting.
Try to avoid asking negative questions as they just give the meeting a more depressed vibe.
- Taking Questions From The Floor – Again, in front of a white board, I made a list of topics/questions that patients wanted to ask. Then, from that list, we prioritized them into a workable order. Or, you can just ask patients to raise their hands. Again, I always give newly diagnosed patients the first few questions.
- Crying Patients – Anyone who starts crying should get immediate attention from the group leader. You should stop and give them your full attention. If possible, go and sit next to them and/or kneel in front of them. Hugs can be very healing. Your job is to listen to their worries and then, with confidence, tell them that they are not alone. That you and the group members are there to offer your comfort, support and encouragement. In some cases, you may ask the patient to stay behind after the meeting for some one-on-one time with you.
- Ending the Meeting – At the end of each meeting, thank patients for attending and if there are any topics that they would like to cover in the meeting. Encourage patients to socialize and exchange phone numbers or email addresses with each other so that they can develop their own support friends.
Author: Jill Osborne