Facilitated and Peer Support Groups

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By Megan Bronson, PHMHCNS-BC 

“ The encounter with others who have undergone similar trials dissolves feelings of shame, stigma and isolation.”
-Irvin Yalom MD (The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy) 

Peer Support Groups

Peer Support Groups are comprised of individuals who share a common condition or circumstance such as a burn injury. These types of groups are focused on providing mentoring, emotional and social support, information, education, and practical help to each other. Those who are further along in the rehabilitation and recovery process can provide a sense of hope and direction to those more recently recovering from a burn injury. The expression of mutual caring and concern provides a powerful environment for reclaiming hope. A peer support group may be facilitated by a non-clinical person who is a burn survivor who has been through rehabilitation and recovery from their own injury. The Peer Supporter has made adequate progress in their own recovery, been carefully screened and has had specific training, guidance and supervision in facilitating a peer led support group from a program such as SOAR (Survivors Offering Assistance in Recovery). It is essential that there be a procedure in place for ongoing clinical supervision of survivors facilitating peer led support groups by a professional with expertise in recovery after burn injury and group dynamics in order to deal effectively with problems that may arise in the group. 

Professionally Facilitated Support Groups

Facilitated Support Groups are facilitated by a professional with expertise in recovery from burn injury or a professional with mental health expertise. Whatever their professional background might be, experience and training in working with group dynamics is essential. These groups serve many of the same functions as a Peer Supported Group such as education, emotional and social support, information, and practical help. In addition facilitated groups provide assistance in working through grief, loss, and trauma issues, and focus on enhancing self esteem and social functioning. The facilitator of this type of group also has the expertise to evaluate the needs of individual group members who may require further mental health assessment, referral, and intervention beyond what the group can provide.

Both types of groups require clear boundaries around issues such as confidentiality and the acceptance and non-judgment of feelings in order to establish and maintain the emotional safety of the group. Both types of groups require mutual trust, respect and concern in order to be effective. In a facilitated group, the maintenance of group safety is the responsibility of the group facilitator, while in a peer support group this responsibility is shared by all group members. Both types of groups provide the experience of receiving as well as providing support and care to another person in similar circumstances and most importantly a forum in which one can be deeply understood by others sharing similar problems and concerns. Sharing common experiences can decrease the sense of social isolation, stigma, shame, and exclusion so often associated with a burn injury. Both types of groups can provide a safe and effective forum for beginning the process of social reentry which is so essential after burn injury. 

Guidelines for Support Groups

Facilitator: Remind the group that this is a support group with the purpose of sharing, listening, learning from and being supportive of each other. A support group is not a therapy group.

  1. Please turn off all cell phones and put pagers on vibrate.
  2. What is shared in this group stays in this group. Ask group members for their commitment to confidentiality. If people come in late, briefly mention boundaries to them also.
  3. All feelings are okay. Feelings are neither right nor wrong, good nor bad. We do not need to rescue people from their feelings. When feelings are heard with respect and empathy, people can begin to resolve these feelings. Remembering these things about feelings will help this group to be emotionally safe. Feelings do not need to be interpreted, analyzed, or judged.
  4. Respect people’s physical boundaries. Ask permission to hug or touch. Listen while people are sharing.
  5. Only one person speaks at a time--please do not interrupt or talk over others. Respect people’s opinions. Ask permission to comment on something someone else has shared or to ask them a question. It is fine to let others know that you would rather that they did not comment on what you shared.
  6. This group is a safe space for all religious and spiritual belief systems. Please be respectful of this. It is not all right to use the group time to try to convince people about any specific religion or spiritual belief system. It is; of course, fine to share how your belief system may have been supportive and helpful to you.

Facilitator: Close the group process--thank people for attending, sharing and listening to each other. Remind the group of commitment to confidentiality. 

This article provided by:
The Phoenix Society, Inc.® • 1835 R W Berends Dr. SW • Grand Rapids, MI 49519-4955 • 800.888.BURN • http://www.phoenix-society.org • All Rights Reserved