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Bringing your support group together

As a social worker, support groups may be an essential part of your daily workload. Support groups look and function differently depending on the situation or target demographic. However, in most cases, they are a way to work with a group of people - usually two or more - to enhance their well-being, achieve a long or short-term goal, collectively reach for personal growth, or process a shocking or challenging event in their lives.

Knowing how to bring your support group together can be challenging, especially when working with individuals in or out of a domestic violence shelter environment or other difficult situations. You may use certain group rules or norms to maintain order, such as: beginning and ending on time, prohibiting the use of hostile or inappropriate language, turning off any mobile devices, and listening while other are sharing. While all these suggestions are great for helping your group function, they might not help it thrive. If you want to truly build cohesiveness in your support groups, evaluate these two areas:

How do you handle communication in your group?
In certain support groups, communication can be a significant problem. Participants may be unwilling to share troublesome experiences or encounter miscommunication, where their peers may misconstrue or not understand their position. This misunderstanding can cause serious discord or arguments during the middle of a meeting. 

As a support group leader, it is your job to set the example of how everyone should interact within the group setting. Encourage quiet members to speak up and remind others not to interrupt or belittle their fellow participants. Meanwhile, summarize important thoughts shared so that everyone can comprehend and comment on the subject matter.

How do you handle conflict in your group?
Conflict is an unfortunate, but sometimes beneficial part of life. Healthy, meaningful discussion and debate can be incredibly helpful for certain members of your support group. On the other hand, when handled or promoted incorrectly, conflict can lead to a lack of control or problem solving. While you may be frustrated mediating a support group that frequently disagrees or argues, you shouldn't see this as a sign of failure.

Don't immediately end a discussion if someone disagrees with another member, but also don't let it get out of hand. Nothing destroys cohesiveness faster than personal attacks or cruel words spouted over a difference in opinion or misunderstanding. Use mediation and negotiation tactics to curb any excessive negativity and encourage group members to express their opinions in a constructive manner.

At ProSolutions Training, we offer online social services training, such as "The Practice of Ethical Decision-Making in Human Services Professions," for interested social service professionals who want to know more about their field. Contact us today to learn more about our courses and services.