To Join or Not To Join: What to Expect in a Support Group Meeting

John McManamy walks you through a typical meeting to give you a sense of what you might encounter.

By John McManamy

Thinking of joining a support group — or interested in facilitating one — but don’t have any idea what to expect? John McManamy, a former journalist and creator of McMan’s Depression and Bipolar Web, who facilitates a support group run by the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance Princeton, describes a typical meeting in his group.

Welcome and Check-In

The facilitator opens the meeting with a brief welcome and establishes the ground rules. Individual facilitators have their own styles. I have a very strict list of dos and don’ts:

Check guns and knives at the door.

No dancing on tables.

Believe it or not, some groups have even stricter rules.

Our two-hour meetings are divided into two parts: 1)check-in, and 2) discussion of issues and topics that come up from the check-in.

The check-in is our opportunity to find out how everyone in the group is feeling. The check-in list includes sharing:

- your name;

- your particular diagnosis;

- howyou’re feeling on a scale of 1 to 10, with 5 being in the middle of normal;

- any trouble you’ve been having with meds/diet/exercise/sleep;

- any particular stressors in your life;

- a recent success story; and

- any topics you’d like to discuss during the second half of the meeting.

The check-in is designed to elicit how well or unwell someone is feeling. A person may say he is doing well, but the answers he gives to various questions on the check-in list may completely contradict this.

For instance, a person may say she is undergoing a meds adjustment. Is this routine, or are the person’s meds truly not working? If so, this person may require special attention. We don’t second-guess the individual’s psychiatrist, but we’ve all been through meds adjustments and we can share our experiences in how to get through what can be an extremely trying time.

Or a person may say he’s not exercising because of a meds side effect. Is this a legitimate trade-off? Let’s talk about that …

If we suspect a person is in crisis, we will immediately tend to that person’s needs. Generally, we can get to the bottom of the issue in 20 minutes.

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