How to start a support group

How to start a support group

When you’re starting a support group, you have many important tasks and responsibilities to help the group succeed. The first 4 to focus on are
1. Define the outcome you want for your group
2. Establish the key inputs to influence that outcome
3. Create content that helps people in the support group set goals for those inputs
4. Select a technology platform to help your group work together and stay accountable to their goals

Many support group leaders forget about the fourth step. Their groups end up just meeting once a week, sharing their feelings and difficulties, talking about how to improve, and going home and struggling on their own.

To start an effective support group, you need to use technology to keep your group connected and accountable throughout the week. That’s where the “support” in a “support group” really happens – not during the weekly meeting on Thursday nights at 7pm, but during the hard moments alone on weekends or after a bad day at work. Technology can help you and your group be present for those hard times and lift each other.

Let’s start from the top and we’ll see why technology is so important to start a support group.

1. Define the outcome you want for your group

There are many types of roles that start support groups, and each role is focused on a different outcome. The key is to recognize that the real outcome you want isn’t behavioral change – it’s actually a shift in the way your group members feel about themselves and the world. Here are some examples:

Role: Licensed marriage and family therapist helping people overcome
unwanted pornography habits
Outcome: Reduce shame and guilt, deal with stress in new ways

Role: Life coach helping individuals overcome their insecurities
Outcome: Increase confidence, heal emotional wounds

Role: Pastor helping members of your congregation who struggle with
substance abuse
Outcome: Living a spiritually fruitful life

Role: Treatment center clinician helping people overcome eating disorders
Outcome: Achieve stability, derive worth from within

As you can see, the outcome isn’t just a change of behavior. As you start a support group for a particular subject, determine what deeper outcome is your real goal for your group.

2. Establish the key inputs to influence that outcome

To know how to start a support group, you also need to determine specific ways to influence that outcome. These are your group’s inputs — things they can control.

You may be surprised, but these inputs are also NOT a direct behavioral change – that’s the output, which creates the outcome that you’re trying to impact. Again, don’t focus too much on the output (for example, staying sober); focus on the inputs (for example, daily exercise) that can ultimately change behavior and, more importantly, change how your group members feel.

INPUT (action)  --> OUTPUT (behavioral change) --> OUTCOME (shift in
emotions, perspective, growth)

There are many different inputs, but here are a few examples to think about for the types of groups I mentioned above:

  • Sex addiction recovery inputs: amount of sleep, turning off the phone at 10pm, plans to prevent boredom or other emotional stressors
  • Betrayal trauma recovery inputs: daily journal, weekly call with friend, self-love exercises
  • Substance abuse recovery inputs: run 4x / week, daily check-in with sponsor, social environment
  • Eating disorder recovery inputs: emotional awareness reflections, managing overall mental health (stress, anxiety, depression)

Notice that many of these can be interchangeable and relevant regardless of the type of healing / behavioral change. These types of controllable inputs are critical to outline as you start a support group. Below, we’ll discuss why support group technology is key to track and improve those inputs.

3. Create content that helps people in the support group set goals for those inputs

If you’re reading this article, likelihood is that you’ve already got a general idea of the type of content you want to share with your support group. The main point here is that the content has to lead to action – they need the inputs to change so they can get to your important outcomes.

Help your group members recognize the importance of the inputs you’re focused on. Each time you meet with the group, help them all set a goal to increase or change one or more inputs between now and the next time you meet.

This goal doesn’t do any good if it’s just a “nice thing to do”, i.e., if it’s not a priority. To start a support group that works, you need to help people prioritize these goals and track them, which requires working together and holding each other accountable between meetings. That is where support group technology comes in.

4. Use technology to help your group work together and stay accountable to their goals

Like I mentioned earlier, this is the step that is most often overlooked, but is really most important. Step 4 is where the change happens – not when you’re lecturing or discussing topics in your support group, but between meetings! You need to establish a system to help your group members track
their progress toward the goals you discussed to help them prioritize the changes they need to make in the inputs you defined.

In the modern age, the best way to help people work together and stay accountable is technology. We have supercomputers in our pockets all the time that can remind us what we need to do, help us track our progress, and most importantly help us build relationships with others – which is often a main motivator for change.

When you choose an app to use as you start a support group, here are a few key things you need:
1. The whole group can see each other’s progress on goals. Even if they don’t know specifics, they need to have visibility to others’ progress to help encourage them and put the “support” in “support group”
2. Group members can set their own goals and change them as needed. Everyone’s situation is different, and people may need different inputs to get to the same outcome.
3. The group is incentivized to interact. A regular group chat doesn’t do this very well for support groups – often it’s hard to reach out in difficult moments, and when a couple people dominate conversation, others isolate themselves. Find technology that brings the whole group into the discussion.

When you start your support group and you’re looking for the best app for your new group, you should consider Relay – it’s much better than your typical group text, GroupMe, or WhatsApp that support groups often use. It makes vulnerability easy and encourages people to connect regularly.

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