How to Structure a Support Group Meeting
For Vestibular Support Group Leaders
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Content created for VeDA, written by Samantha Hudson @Vestibular.Network, a Canadian VeDA Ambassador
The wonderful thing about hosting a support group is that each facilitator has the opportunity to create a structure that works best for their specific style of leading. Some facilitators like unstructured groups (free-flowing conversation), while others prefer a more structured format (organized flow of conversation).
From my experience the flow of structured support groups often looks something like this:
- Reviewing the meeting’s agenda
- Discussing group guidelines (or meeting etiquette rules)
- Weekly check-ins (or participant introductions)
- Group discussion
- Weekly check-outs (or leaders closing words/thoughts)
With structured groups, just like everything in life, there are advantages and disadvantages. I won’t go through an exhaustive list, but I will share a few things I’ve experienced personally.
- People join knowing exactly what to expect. This can help with participant retention as people know the exact format that will take place each week.
- A structured format can help participants feel more comfortable in the group.
- A structured format gives people the freedom to direct their cognitive energy toward exactly what they need (i.e., self-care) in order to fully participate.
The main disadvantage I’ve experienced is tied to group guidelines. Some people have a hard time following certain zoom etiquette requirements. I’ve also found that a structured format does not work well with people who want to vent rather than focus on a singular topic.
I wanted to share with you a sample plan I created for a structured support group. The plan topic is “Getting Ready for the Holidays” and is simply meant to help participants proactively plan for their upcoming holiday season. I’ve included a sample agenda and participant worksheet questions that could be used to help guide the conversation.
Getting Ready for the Holidays Peer-led Support Group Content created for VeDA and written by @Vestibular.Network
- Welcome Participants and Introduce Hosts (5 min)
- Review Group Guidelines (5 min)
- Check-ins (10 min)
- Question of the Month: As a kid, who was your favorite teacher, and why? If you didn’t have a favorite teacher, that’s ok. Who was your favorite friend?
- Note: You can ask any type of fun opening question here. Things like, “How have you practiced self-care this past month?”, “What is your favorite movie of all time?”, or “Where is a place you’ve always wanted to visit – either on this planet or even anywhere in the universe?” are all great opening questions. The point is to draw people out of their personal lives/troubles and into the group by talking about something positive/fun.
- Review Worksheet (30 min discussion)
- Group discussion
- Q&A opportunity
- Check-outs (10 min)
- Question: What positive thing will you take away from your experience with group this week. Maybe it’s an action item, an ‘ah-ha’ moment or something new you learned.
- Note: You can have any type of closing here. The point is to ask a question that will help people gently connect what they learned/experienced in group to their everyday lives. The questions are meant to be positive in nature. Sample questions: “What is something new you learned this week?” or “How could you apply what you learned today into your life?”.
Sample Worksheet Questions
For some the holiday season can be difficult; especially with a vestibular disorder. It can feel overwhelming, stressful and maybe even physically painful to attend a busy holiday event. In these worksheet questions you will have the chance to reflect on how you have handled past events, so you can glean from those experiences and build an action plan for this upcoming holiday season.
You can print off these questions and present them as a worksheet in your meeting. Assure members that their worksheet is for their eyes only and its purpose is to help organize their thoughts and ideas.
What holiday events do you have to prepare for this upcoming season?
(i.e. Thanksgiving, Christmas dinner, New Years event, birthday party, etc.)
When you think about attending these events, what feelings bubble up to the surface? What thoughts automatically pop into your head?
What are some tips/tricks that have helped you plan for and attend holiday events in the past?
(i.e., talk to host in advance, plan in rest time, etc.)
How could you practice self-care after attending a holiday event?
(i.e., rest the next day, take hot bath, recite personal mantras, etc.)
List below any areas or situations you would like group support in problem-solving.