Peer-Run Group Facilitation Tips
Deciding whether to start a group
Do you have time and energy to moderate and run a group? Do you have significant needs such that you would have a hard time facilitating while maintaining fairness and turn-taking in the group? Do you have any prior experience in support groups or running support groups?
It's ok if your& answers are no and you still want to do this. It's just things to consider that might help you& make a decision on whether to do so.
Clearly defining trauma support
Note that trauma support is not the same as trauma processing. Trauma processing amongst other trauma survivors can have a negative effect on the health of other survivors. As such, it could be important to make sure that there's a boundary around what is and is not allowed in the group. A support group supports people as an emotional support outlet between trauma-work or trauma-processing sessions (and life in general), but is not crisis support, and is not a trauma-processing space where graphic accounts are told and the person processes flashbacks in the group. This would likely be highly problematic, and such things are usually done in 1:1 sessions with trained professionals with hopefully healthy boundaries for a reason.
Notes on Developing a Culture
Having a healing, helpful, respectful, culture from the start is important for any group. As a group facilitator the group will look to you to reinforce boundaries, to approve or disapprove certain types of behavior, to role-model the culture that you expect to see in the group, etc.
Because of this it will also be your job to show people the door who misbehave, to protect other group members to some degree by what you allow or don't allow to happen within the group's space. Stronger egos may come through the door who want to take the group's culture away from you. Abdicating this spoon cost may seem attractive at first, but once they have the control they often follow it up by trying to take away power as well. It's some people's nature.
As such, it's important to set the tone, hold the space, and tolerate no BS within the boundaries of the group. The group members are free to come and go, but if you let someone else define or change the group, it will certainly get away from you.
Projecting good values to the group, such that other members adopt them within the group space is the key to developing a positive culture. Then when new members come in, all they will see in the room are great role-models of this new culture you have built. Then your work will be lighter, and all you can concentrate on making sure it doesn't drift away from you.
Define your platform and boundaries
This may limit privacy options, or whether your group will be discoverable by others (if desired) or discovered by others (if undesired).
Some platforms allow time-shifted conversation and non-live communications such as emails, Discord, Facebook, forums. Others only work if there are others present and may be best suited for specific meeting times with loose support around it such as IRC, Zoom, phone, etc.
We don't suggest a very-open platform such as Twitter for this, even though it could be a conversation limited to your follow list, topics for a support group are probably unsuited for such an open platform.
Define your intended audience and define any ambiguous concepts or terms
Who do you want in your group? Create an introductory paragraph that gives, in plain language, the general idea of the shape and size of your group, what types of topics or situations it is suited for, and where/when/how often it takes place.
Decide whether there are age limitations. If you are a teen, you could run a teen support group for example. We were part of a gay support group in NYC that consisted of 14-21 year olds. People would pass the baton for facilitation to younger members with tenure who understood the culture when they aged out. If you're older, you may want to keep it body-age 18+ or 21+ for legal purposes.
Decisions Around and Addressing Age Concerns
There's always a risk of members lying about their age when entering your group.
There may be risks if underage persons are in your group and discussing abuse situations currently going on, or disclosing information about abuse to younger siblings currently taking place, especially if any of the group members are mandated reporters, this can be an uncomfortable situation for everyone and require a breach of confidentiality to report to the authorities, which can increase the danger to the family in question.
If all meetings are facilitated, then make sure the group remains on-topic and age appropriate for all members. If you are running a support group in a time-shifted medium, unmoderated messages may be seen by other members. Group guidelines should make sure the messages are safe for all, while having a strike-out, warning, or zero-tolerance ban penalty for breaches of the guidelines.
Don't play favorites
It can be hard if your friends are in the group and push at the boundaries. But having guidelines gives you something to help make decisions without being personally culpable. Point to the guidelines, and carry them out like an instruction manual.
When a group gets too big
The more people, sometimes the more troubles — and the less intimate the less people feel safe enough to speak up if they're shy or have something important to say. Also, the more people, the less time each person gets to talk.
When your group size starts to get near capacity, consider splitting it into 2 groups. So for example if your maximum is 20, when it gets to around 15, it may be time to consider splitting the group into 2 meetings of 8-10 people each.
Do a survey of sorts and ask whether another time or place works better for members is one great way to encourage folk to consider splitting the group. You can always hold joint social events, and consider either having a facilitator work in both groups for a short period to make sure the split works for everyone, or have facilitators or solid experienced members go to each group to help transfer knowledge and culture to both groups.
Some people are like work: it will fill the time allotted to it.
It's a difficult balance between allowing people to speak when they're in the moment, verses respecting all the other member's time.
There can be guidelines about whether a body should be able to take a turn twice in a row or if a facilitator will take a list of names so that folks around the "room" or on the call can take turns speaking.