Learn the Steps to Start a Support Group


Starting a support group is a novel idea, especially when most of us today need some kind of mental stimulation. Support groups play an overwhelming role in helping people overcome problems. If you are planning to start a support group, you need to invest enough time and put in a lot of effort.

However, know that you cannot help everyone in the process. Living through a difficult phase of life can be emotionally and mentally challenging. Some people do not appreciate such help. They like to deal with things on their own. The number one reason for people not wanting to go to a support group is their perception about it being a rehabilitation center where people cry and whine. But that is not true; a true support group listens, provides solution and nurture.

In this article, you will learn the steps to organize a support group.

What is a Support Group?

A support group is a non-profit organization led by a group of people who provide support and counseling to an individual dealing with an emotional or mental crisis. You can start an informal support group, in your drawing room or kitchen as afriendly gathering. Or establish a large group facilitated by an organization. You can also start a religious support group. You can lead the group by yourself or start a more formal system, led by a trained supporter.

Some groups are general that allow people to talk about anything, while others are subject-centric, such as HIV support, substance abuse, mental depression dealing, etc.

Most support groups are often open to all, where members can join anytime or drop in as needed. There are also closed support groups that follow a proper process of joining and attendance.

There is no right or wrong way to start support. Your reason can be anything, as long it is safe, provides support, nurturing, and is respectful to each individual. Your support group could be formed to share information and encourage talks or could aim for a long-term system where members of the community join to help each other on different things, such as nursing the sick, babysitting, carpooling, volunteering etc.

You can also start an educational program and invite motivational speakers to teach and speak.

Step 1: Collecting Information

In order to start something important, be it a support group or a business, you need to research and collect information. Look for existing groups, at least one that shares similar concern and values as yours. Find out how they operate. You can look up their website and check if they have any blog guideline.

Or you can talk to the administrative officer and fix an appointment. You can ask other groups about how they started their journey and how they address different needs in general. You should also get assistance and guidance from social service workers, physicians, psychologists, therapists, and other volunteers. They are great sources to give you comprehensive information as they generally work with different groups simultaneously. They will be able to help you with providing referrals and other resources needed to start the group.

Step 2: Identify Your Motivation and Define the Scope

You cannot and should not start a group just because you think you can help people or it would fulfill your needs. You have to have those qualities within you that everyone with issues look for support. Next comes determining your scope of the group. Although you can help as many individuals as you can, if a group gets too large in size, it will be difficult for you to handle and give everyone equal attention. Members will not be able to get an equal amount of time to speak their hearts out either. Your group shouldn’t too narrow on the other hand. The ideal number must be anywhere between 10 and 15 for a start-up group. As and when you grow and bring in more supporters, you can expand it little by little.

Step 3: Determine the Tenure of Your Group

As we discussed earlier, some groups are of short-term in nature, while others have long-term goals. You have to plan the tenure and nature of your group ahead of time. You have to define your group’s agenda and find out the goals to be accomplished. Your goals may hint the term of your group.

Your goals are the issues you will be addressing. Analyze if they are permanent in nature, cyclic, temporary or life-long. If you are a support group for people with chronic health problems, such as schizophrenia or AIDS and HIV positive, then it is permanent in nature. On the other hand, if it is for students struggling with their school or college, then you will have break times, such as summer and winter holidays.

You also should plan the schedule of your group meetings, such as how often should participants visit. If your supporting cause is unyielding enough, you might have to keep frequent meetings. On the other hand, if the participants need time to implement strategies and systems, follow-up meetings may be scheduled once a month. However, you may also have plans secured for emergency cases.

Sep 4: Plan Your Support Group Format

Every support group runs on a specific format. You have to decide yours at the earliest. There is no reason to stick to the format. You can change it after a year or so. Most common types of format that support groups follow include: Curriculum-based format, Open Format, and Topic-Based Format.

The Open format is flexible and accommodating. It doesn’t have a pre-defined structure, and the topic of discussion vary based on the members’ choices. As the name denotes, Topic-Based formats are centered around a particular topic, where the supporter introduces a topic and the participants discuss it explicitly. The last one is the Curriculum-Based format, in which books/articles are assigned relating to an issue. Then each one participates in reading the bit and discussions are carried thereafter.

Step 5: Find Your Support Group Meeting Location

Church, community halls, library, hospital or any social service agency are few places where you can set up your group meetings. If it is an informal group, and if your home can accommodate, you can use your living area for the meetings. Lights should be arranged and chairs should be placed in a circle. Everyone should feel equal. A classroom set-up is not encouraged.

Your meeting room should be spacious enough to accommodate 10 – 15% more of your actual crowd. You do not want your participants to feel cramped up. While a small meeting place can create a claustrophobic effect on the members, a large space can look empty.

Step 6: Reach Out to More Supporters

You will eventually need more supporters to help support more and more troubled souls. For that, you have to identify others who share your interest in supporting. You can find such people by circulating flyers or letters. Make sure you elaborately mention the purpose of the group, and your contact details if an individual is interested in joining you to help start the group. Local community websites, newspapers, local magazines, clinic, post office, community center, and library are few places where you can make copies of the flyer and post.

You can also ask for referrals. You should also try mailing copies to a few key individuals who you think to have the potential to make a social change.

Social media is a great medium to establish connections with like minds. Use Twitter, Instagram and Facebook stories and use relevant hashtags to share your appeal.

You can also find out if there is any self-help group clearance house in your locality that can help you getstarted.

Once you have gathered the resources and arranged for the meeting, send out invites to interested parties and others several weeks in advance, and keep following them up until a few days are left for the event.

Step 7: Functioning Your Support Group

Decide the format and schedule of the group. When that is done, you have to start strategizing the man-management of the meeting. The first 2  or 3 meetings may be difficult, but it will smoothen out as time goes. Although you may wish to develop some kind of structure for your group meetings, it is a great idea to leave certain aspects flexible to accommodate additional needs of the members. The objectives and schedule of the group meeting should be clear. Punctuality and sticking to the routine is very important to run the meetings smoothly.

Step 8: Establish Support Group’s Mission Statement

Each system or business is established with a purpose and a mission in the head. You have planned to establish the support group for some reason and for some goals to accomplish. So drafting the mission statement and the purpose is very important for you to fall back on something. Your mission statement and your vision will keep you on track, as they will act as the structural and concrete framework for the group’s goals and values.

You have to develop this with help of your co-workers or co-supporters. They should be involved in drafting the purpose and mission so that they feel part of this thing and give in their 100 percent in running it. What do you hope to get out of this support group? This is going to be your mission. Some of the factors you need to take care of while formatting the statements are:

  • Focus on outcomes to be achieved in your mission statement
  • Don’t focus on writing down the methods for achieving
  • Make your statement brief and to the point. It should not cross more than 3 sentences
  • Do not mention ‘promise’ rather mention ‘aims to’. You cannot promise things that are not tried and tested yet. Your support group is a mission, not a warranty disclaimer.
  • Do not mention long-term and short-term goals in your statement. Those are changeable and temporary when your mission statement is irreplaceable and life-long.

Step 9: Name Your Support Group

Get ideas from your co-workers, friends, and family and share few options in the first meeting. Don’t decide the name hastily. Take your time and ask feedbacks. Take as many ideas as you can and decide the one your team finds fitting to your mission and purpose of the system.

Step 10: Work with Shared Responsibilities

You have to delegate work to the co-supporters to share responsibilities and duties equally. Determine the roles and identify the people who would play the roles in making the group work. While creating the roles, take a vote from all supporters. Make sure you appoint only those people who are reliable, proactive, considerate and know the value of the responsibility. Give a time of 6 months to one year for performance evaluation. If the performance is unsatisfactory, you can change or replace the person by casting a vote.

In order to smoothen out things and make everything effective, give clear instructions when laying out the roles. And, when supporters’ contribution goes beyond expectation, appreciate their effort and credit them.

Step 11: Run and Market Your First Meeting

It’s time to take your support group to the public. Make sure you provide each co-worker ample time to describe their interest and work. Give an opportunity to the general public to voice their views about what the support group should do. While doing so, identify the common needs of the members that the group can address and work upon.

Make sure you keep the discussions of your meeting confidential. You could also draw a confidential policy so that members become more comfortable in talking and sharing.

Conclude the meeting by charting out the goals to be immediately achieved and their subsequent plans. Fix a date and make a brief outline of the agenda for the next meeting.

Keep the group meetings informal, yet professional. Don’t always stick to stringent rules. Allow fun interactions and one-to-one communication. After the meeting is done, allow everyone to socialize so that people become aware that they are here for mutual support and community improvement. If you want to raise any doubts, pass them on in comments below. We will answer your queries as soon as possible.