SURVIVOR-LED RECOVERY GROUPSThinking about setting up a support group for male survivors and need some ideas of what's needed to ensure it lasts longer than a few months? Read on...
If this all sounds too much, read the last paragraph at the bottom of the page, first.
Get in touch and we dicuss what is needed
LEADERSHIP.An important part of the process. Some books and so-called experts imply that survivor led recovery groups are rudderless, chaotic and therefore scary, to say the least. I will agree that whoever sets up a group needs to have sorted themselves out, in order to proceed to support other survivors, but it doesn't mean that survivors are unable and are not skilled enough to run a support group!
After all, who's the real expert in this? Survivors make great leaders too. Saying that we can't be good leaders is just another way of labelling Survivors as damaged goods.
Good clear leadership is important for a number of reasons: -
Someone to take responsibility for organising practical things like venue, tea, coffee, etc.
Someone has to accept responsibility for monitoring the primary ground rules before the recovery work begins.
If ground rules are violated, someone who is both able and capable of addressing the issue.
It is essential for someone to have a very clear focus on safety issues within the group
- this includes clear ground rules, and encouraging group members to focus on their own personal safety whilst in a group setting.
Someone to accept responsibility for meeting potential group members, sharing information about the group, and ensuring whether a group is what they need at present.
Ensuring that someone is not accepted into the group who would disrupt the group and who could possibly prevent those currently in therapy from their healing process.
If you have had any group work dealings in the past, rest assured that this group will be unlike any other you have come across. The leader has to be very confident that he has done enough recovery work himself in order to cope with the responsibilities.
You also need a fair amount of support and more than adequate supervision, so make sure you get it.
Potential ground rules: (These are the current rule used by AMSOSA)
Absolutely vital for ensuring a baseline of safety. Different men have slightly different fears and anxieties, so the base ground rules should be:
Confidentiality (limits, etc.)
The limit on the confidentiality we provide is if we become aware of a child at risk, we will break any bond of confidentiality in order to protect that child. That applies to sexual, physical or emotional abuse occurring to a child.
No touching. Touch is a very sensitive issue. Any form of touching is abusive if permission has not been given.
Opt out clause.
Walking out of the group at anytime is ok, and we will ask you if you need one of us to leave with you to provide support. You are also allowed to ask for that support
No one will be allowed to attend group meetings if under the influence of alcohol or drugs, prescribed or otherwise.
No violence, or threats.
Anger needs to be focused correctly. We prefer to question an issue rather than attack the person stating it, we don't stifle healthy debates or differences of opinion, but we do not allow them to get out of hand.
No outside contact.
NO outside contact is permitted between group members, as it creates barriers for other group members, who rightly or wrongly, feel excluded from 'private' conversations that take place outside of group, and perhaps from any 'private' conversations that occur within group meetings.
We have all had enough conflict in our lives, that we dont need it during group sessions, so avoid bringing conflict into the healing arena
This rule is in place because of several previous upsets in group, and is there to prevent any conflict from arising, protect group member's identities, and stops any division in group meetings.
Don't expect plain sailing in group settings, here's some potential pitfalls to avoid, or be aware of:
If you allow the group to take on a social aspect, then you need to expect them to engage in a lot of social support outside of the group, but be aware that it is easier to "confine" the group to the group. (Issues of boundaries, safety, etc, come into play)
It can also create unwanted and unneeded barriers between others, who rightly or wrongly, feel excluded from conversations that took place outside of group, or perhaps from the 'private' conversations going on in group.
Group facilitators are human, and go through bad patches themselves, with any of the million and one stresses and strains of life.
It is possible for them to be over involved or use too much of the group time on their issues alone.
That alone is one good reason that they get regular support and supervision.
Some survivors can become dependent on others to live and breathe for them, and that is not healthy. Avoid co-dependency on you or others.
Remember that Survivors have differences as well as similarities. These can be a great source of mutual learning but can also cause tension and conflict. Just because he's a survivor, it doesn't make him likeable to you.
In my view, having experienced this twice in the past, it is dangerous, to say the least. Neither would I contemplate accepting a man who was actively homophobic in actions or words. - for the same reason.
These are all tricky, complex issues that need careful consideration.
Issues of safety need to be explored fully
Screening is the professional way to decide who is presently suitable for a group or not.
Some books/experts suggest excluding a wide range of survivors, just because they are in the middle of another form of crisis. e.g. Self harming, addicted to alcohol/drugs, under psychiatric care, taking medication, or even identified as gay, etc.
If we excluded people based on the above, we would not have a group. However, care must be used on just who is admitted to the group, and what potential harm they could have upon current group members.
The last thing needed is for the safety of the group to be compromised for the sake of one individual.
Where men are in crisis, I ask them to weigh carefully whether they have sufficient support outside of the group, to cope with the group experience, and whether they think that hearing other peoples pain could well cause them further distress.
If men have been addicted to alcohol/drugs, they also need to weigh up whether looking closely at their issues in a group setting would set them further back.
If that all sounds too much for you to do, and you would like me to come along and do some traing, or even perhaps faciliate the first group meeting, I am more than willing to talk about that with you
The message about survivor-led recovery groups is that it does work and we Survivors can get together, support one another, look at painful issues, and can get through it all.
In doing so, we can break secrecy, defeat isolation, overcome feelings of shame and guilt and empower ourselves.
Together, we can defeat the legacy of abuse and move on to full recovery. Without doubt!