Creating a support group is an incredible chance to come together and share, but it’s also a responsibility. Following on with my last column’s theme of support groups, I thought I’d focus on running a session. The dynamic of support groups can change, so it’s good to have a foundation to fall back on to ensure your session is always helpful to everyone involved.
The most important part of running a support group is listening. The dynamic of your group could run in two ways: either everyone has their own conversations around the table, or it’s more of a sharing circle.
If it’s a sharing circle, you can lead by example. The attention of the group should be on whoever is talking about their experience. Nonverbal encouragement, such as nodding and eye contact, reassures the speaker that they can keep speaking. It’s also important to give verbal communication like the occasional “mmm” to show understanding. Give speakers time to say what they really mean. If they need a moment of silence to think, give that to them. Perhaps ask questions to aid them if you feel that they are stuck but have more they need to say. Questioning can often help a person explore a subject and their emotions further.
With endometriosis, it can be really easy to respond to a story with your own story. But it’s important that the person’s problem is discussed fully before moving on. This is when you can offer your understanding and empathy, and also help them look at options and solutions with the rest of the group. Open the table up and ask if anyone has any good suggestions. For example, if an endo patient has trouble with their partner, maybe someone around the table has seen a couple’s counselor, or perhaps someone has read a good book on communication.
If the flow of the group is more about mini-conversations with each other, it can help to have some guidelines. Repeat these at the beginning of every session to introduce them to newcomers and to remind regulars. Simple guidelines such as not talking over anyone, respecting people’s experiences, being nonjudgmental, and explaining some basic listening skills (such as the above) can be helpful.
Being assertive can sound scary, but in a situation like this, it’s about being healthily confident, respecting yourself, and respecting others. I have been at support groups where disagreements occurred. It can make the experience stressful for others, so being assertive is a way to allow the conversation to close and move on.
Being assertive doesn’t mean encouraging conflict. If you want to move on from a conversation because you feel that perhaps someone has been taking up a lot of the time and you want to open it up with others, try, “Thank you so much for your story, I’d really like to open up the circle to see if anyone else has felt this way or if anyone has had a different experience. Perhaps we can chat afterward if you’d like a bit more support with this.” If there is more of a heated discussion going on and you’re not being listened to when you try to wrap things up, a gentle lifting of the palm is a tactic often used in situations such as this, followed by something like, “Thank you so much for your input and thoughts on this, but I’d like to wrap up this conversation. I’m more than happy to chat about this afterward.” Again, you can use the “opening up the circle” as an excuse here to end the conversation.
Know your facts
There is so much information out there on endometriosis that it can be a little overwhelming. Do your research before you run a group and ensure that you get your information from a reliable source such as Endometriosis News, Endometriosis UK, and Endometriosis Foundation of America. If someone in your group asks you a question you’re not sure of, be honest — it’s OK! If there’s some research out there, but the results are inconclusive, say that. If you have a personal opinion, always state that it’s a personal opinion and not a fact. It’s important we provide sufferers with the right knowledge to empower themselves, as there are so many myths out there!
Make it fun
Finally, make it fun! Perhaps you can alternate your sessions with gentle walks, trips to the cinema, days out, etc. It doesn’t mean the subject of endo won’t come up, but at least your group can chat while enjoying themselves!
Note: Endometriosis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Endometriosis News or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to endometriosis.