In the last post, I discussed how the leader of a good support group always ends each group on a note of moving forward. The leader never permits complaining and spinning in negativity and then ends the session. Venting is certainly allowed, but the emphasis is on how to change one’s situation for the better and the next steps that might be taken. If you haven’t read the first post in its entirety, I invite you to do so either before or after you read this one.
The second and last factor I’ll discuss here regarding a good support group (as opposed to one that is poorly led) is the climate that should be set regarding, “There’s no one right way – there’s no one size fits all.”
Often very well meaning participants of a support group feel strongly about their choices, which is fine. However, if a member judges others for choosing another way, that is a problem for the group and creates a lack of emotional safety. For instance, a member of a new mom support group might share her parenting decisions about feeding, sleeping and dressing in such a way that sounds to others as if her way should be the only way.
Members of support groups can feel vulnerable and lack confidence (that’s often why they’re in a support group to begin with). The group leader must be skilled at validating an individual’s choices and still keep the climate of openness and acceptance of many different choices. My groups would often hear me say things like, “How wonderful that you found a method that works well in your family. Isn’t it interesting that different techniques work well for different families and situations? Whatever works for your family unit is great.”
A good group leader doesn’t put down the proselytizer, but makes sure to keep it safe for all to share their choices and feel supported in their decisions.
On a side note, I’ve often pointed out to my clients in private sessions that those in a group who are trying to convince others that their way is the “right” way, are often those who are the least confident and are seeking validation.
To conclude, if you’re currently in a support group or considering joining one, shop around. Look for a group with a skilled leader, if at all possible. The leader of a support group doesn’t necessarily need to be a mental health professional, but ideally should be trained in group dynamics and one who sets an open, safe and positive tone.
I look forward to your comments.