Building Supportive Community

INTEREST AREA: Building Supportive Community – Ten First Steps

Focusing In Support Groups

A support group leader will benefit from knowing Focused Listening and Intuitive Focusing skills. She might respond empathically to a member’s tears or other emotion. She might use a Focusing Invitation to help a member to go more deeply into a particular aspect of story or emotion. She will also benefit from knowing the Interpersonal Focusing method should conflict arise between group members.

But many support groups are not led by a helping professional.

A common format for support groups, and the norm for 12-step groups, is “no-cross-talk” sharing.  At least for a part of the meeting, each person is allowed an uninterrupted turn to describe his or her experience or give an update from the following week. Just receiving the warm, silent attention of the whole group is already a powerful form of healing. Often tears, anger, and other emotions come to the surface during these sharings.

While just sharing stories in this way is already a powerful form of support and healing, the Focusing Partnership method for building community can add another  level of support to ongoing meetings and a way for meetings to continue without a leader when it is time to move on.

As one application of this model, participants wishing to go more deeply into feelings touched during the group meeting could stay afterwards to exchange listening/focusing turns with each other. Instead of constantly touching the “tip of the iceberg” of a particular feeling or experience, in longer (20 minutes or more) turns, participants can go more deeply and, hopefully, experience a Felt Shift, a deep and lasting change in  their experiencing. In this application, as long as there are two interested people, they can share turns, so a “critical mass” to form a group is not needed. See Focusing Groups/Teams for a full description.

Training in the Focusing Partnership method could be given to those interested after the group meetings or at a different time, perhaps combining interested people from several support groups in one training workshop.

If exchanging turns after the regular meeting takes too long, the Focusing Group could meet at a different time during the week, or individuals could arrange to meet as pairs for Focusing Partnership turns during the week.

Although a Focusing Group meeting can be as small as two people, a  group is more likely to last with a larger pool to draw on, ideally 10-20 people, even though all are not in attendance each week. In order to create a critical mass of people interested in the listening/focusing exchange, participants from several different support groups can be combined for peer counseling training and the formation of  listening/focusing groups.

As a second application of this model, support group leaders could transition interested members into the self-help model as the support group ends, giving everyone in the group listening/focusing training. Members could then join existing listening/focusing groups or, hopefully with a minimum of ten members, start their own group.

Lastly, participants could be referred to certified Listening/Focusing teachers in their geographic area, learn the listening/focusing exchange skills in workshops, and then join existing Changes groups in the area. See listings under Free Resources.

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These materials are offered purely as self-help skills. In providing them, Dr. McGuire is not engaged in rendering psychological, financial, legal, or other professional services. If expert assistance or counseling is needed, the services of a competent professional should be sought.