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Peer support group facilitation issues

sidptitala

Confident
I have been attending a peer support group most weeks and have been finding it mostly really helpful. the other people there have given me a lot of space to talk and some really helpful comments. also, hearing about how other people are doing has been really helpful to me.

i think when i first started going the regular facilitator was on hiatus and she just came back. her facilitation style REALLY does not gel with me, and i find her really irritating. she seems to me to be confused about the role of a facilitator versus a group member and uses the role to allocate herself large amounts of speaking time and to quiz people (me) after they have spoken in an aggressive way and offer solutions (that are not actually helpful because she does not know enough about the problem as she was absent other times i've talked about it). there are many times that members of the group don't get to speak, or are bombarded with questions and presumptions from her ("you have an illness, do you know that? you're looking at me but i can tell there's nobody there") and she doesn't take feedback well.

yesterday i spoke close to the end of the session and she jumped in immediately and started to tell me exactly what i needed to- not realising that none of those things are realistic for me. she realised that i was not really enjoying her short staccato questions and urgings and said, "oh you're not used to me yet. well, don't stop coming." it felt really defensive to me, and all i had done was look exhausted or perhaps exasperated? i don't feel like she welcomes me and I feel like she takes up way too much space. I also feel that her last comment was a way of telling me to either get used to it or leave? But i really don't want to, i just want to speak to the peers in the group and have the facilitator leave me alone?

I have thought of setting up a subgroup (of younger people) that could meet in addition to this weekly group. the group can at times skew older and more male and myself and a few younger women (whose issues relate more to trauma/ not meeting societal expectations of womanhood) might benefit from also having a group without a domineering (and unprofessional?) leader, without older men venting about their children´s perceived selfishness, and people with more general mental health problems giving generalised advice to those whose problems stem from trauma.

I also don't want to step on anyone's toes. I feel bad for myself and others who need support but need to engage with this woman and the sometimes oppressive dynamic of the group in order to get it. and i doubt my strength to carry a project like that myself. maybe i will try talking with the facilitator if this keeps happening.

if anyone happens to be reading this who is aware of a guide to best practices for facilitating groups or has experience of any dynamics like this before i would love to hear about it.
 
is this group facilitated by professionals? professionally facilitated peer groups are quite different from the non-pro peer groups.

i have only been a patient in the pro-led groups. so far as i know, the patients get no say in the pro-led groups. buy or don't buy are the only options.

my most consistent peer-led network has been alanon. the changes you speak of are quite possible within the alanon family network. the process can be challenging, but so is recovery. the gain can be well worth the pain.
 
it's facilitated by non professionals, and an ngo runs it and trains facilitators (the ngo is not present at the meetings). so as far as i know there are some rules, for example not making personal friendships from the group. i think if i was to try and set up an additional group i would probably need to be in touch with the ngo's central office for them to not feel like i was overstepping. the rules are not clearly defined though and can be a bit loose. for example the ngo has just asked the group to shut down a whatsapp group between members because they felt it might easily get out of hand, but it was ok until now.

i think that for the facilitator in question, the group helps her have a social life and feel like she is in charge of something. and she struggles socially otherwise. she enjoys having a leadership role & im glad it helps her. i just find the level of ownership really aggravating when she says things like 'this is my group', to someone 'you are one of the most empathetic in the group' and treats other people sharing (not me) as opportunities to talk about herself again. it can take 25 min to get started because she always allocates herself the first slot to share- she is speaking I would estimate 50% of the time the group is in session. which is a pity, because it can be a really fruitful and thoughtful discussion when it's others who are talking. i think that she feels both the responsibility and permission to be an authority when she's facilitating but lacks the professional training (things like active listening, not passing judgement or dispensing proscriptive advice). I am wary of challenging her too much for both of our sakes but find it really frustrating. On days she is not there the group is so egalitarian and thoughtful.

thank you arfie for sharing your experience. i think it may well be worth my while to try to either learn how to be gently assertive in the group or to try to also set up a subgroup for a specific subset of people even informally (this could be women/younger people/ lgbtq people or whatever other formulation makes sense). part of what makes me feel this way is watching other people who share vulnerabilities with me in these areas be talked at, talked over or force-fed advice that appears harmful to them and encouraged to act in ways i see (i think) harming them (obedience, compliance). trying to be self aware about it, i realise i have always tried to overcome feelings of being dominated by being with others who experience that too and working for change together- this is also probably a factor in my thoughts in this situation. that it would make me so much less of a victim if i was able to help others become more free.
 
I facilitate a peer-lead support group online, and I have been a "peer leader" in a face-to-face group therapy project for younger children and teens, as an older teenager (operating under the guidance of the therapist). If it were me in this group, I would actually challenge her. I would ask her what the purpose of her statements are, what the goal is, why she is being judgmental, and raise the question of how helpful it is to even attend a group where she is speaking 50% of the time. But that's just me. At this point, if I were attending this group, I'd be one-foot out the door anyway. That's an untenable situation. So I would voice my concerns, in as politic a manner as she was capable of engaging with, and if she lashes out or gets belligerent, I'd just get up and walk out.
 
it can take 25 min to get started because she always allocates herself the first slot to share- she is speaking I would estimate 50% of the time the group is in session.
allocate herself large amounts of speaking time and to quiz people (me) after they have spoken in an aggressive way and offer solutions (that are not actually helpful because she does not know enough about the problem as she was absent other times i've talked about it). there are many times that members of the group don't get to speak, or are bombarded with questions and presumptions from her ("you have an illness, do you know that? you're looking at me but i can tell there's nobody there") and she doesn't take feedback well.
i think if i was to try and set up an additional group i would probably need to be in touch with the ngo's central office for them to not feel like i was overstepping. the rules are not clearly defined though and can be a bit loose.
she seems to me to be confused about the role of a facilitator versus a group member and uses the role to allocate herself large amounts of speaking time and to quiz people

It seems like you have an opportunity here to

A) Contact the NGO to ask for solutions &/or “verify” that facilitators are supposed to allocate the first slot to themselves, talk/critique in between each member, and use up roughly 50% of the group time most meetings. Perhaps, after all, that’s what she’s been trained to do. It’s highly unlikely, but clarifying with the organization that runs these groups both notifies them as to what is happening, as well as opens a dialogue. Ideally? Bullet point the list so they can tick each box, rather than replying as a whole (like perhaps facilitators are also members, like staff is on here …but… they’re not supposed to be critiquing each share, nor always having the first slot beyond opening the meeting; or perhaps what she’s doing is so out of bounds that they’ll call her in for retraining, or appoint someone else). No real idea how things are supposed to be run, since you’ve had 2 such very different experiences. Asking for clarity & solutions, rather than just registerinf a complaint? Both makes you more -reliable is the wrong word, as is believed, but I’m blanking on the correct word- AS WELL AS sets you up in a better position for starting an off-shoot group.

B) Get either a trauma group started; or a youth group started; depending on what kind of peer group you’re looking for. Age or trauma related disorders & conditions (of which PTSD is just one of many).
 
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I use to do professional groups and had a passion for doing groups. Much can be learned in group therapy that may not in individual therapy. Even though facilitated by licensed therapist, I always let them know that "it is their group". We would discuss goals, benefits, expectations, etc when necessary. New members got handouts to read but since these were ongoing groups, as members changed, I found it beneficial to update those handouts periodically to include new members input. Members had a choice if they wanted feed back too. I have attended peer groups such as alanon and ACOA, and they are different. Faciltators changed but there was no rambling on by facilitators. One group stated that no comments were to be made after a member spoke, more than "thank you for sharing" While all groups are different, that facilitator sounds awful. Im sorry.
 
thank you to everyone who offered me feedback and sympathy about this. i think i will try to think of this as a learning experience about handling minor conflict, and will try to ask the facilitator to take a different approach with me and/ or others if this happens again. I'll post here again when the group meets next.

I'm not sure i have the skills yet to set up a subgroup myself but i would like to gain the skills. and then in the medium or long term maybe facilitate a group myself or help develop or implement guidelines about facilitating.
 
i think it may well be worth my while to try to either learn how to be gently assertive in the group or to try to also set up a subgroup
i agree enthusiastically. there is quite allot to learn and even when the lesson doesn't work out the way i imagined, i never lose. i learn. it's a good day when i learn something new. as for the facilitator in question. . . in every single one of the peer support families i have been a member, the facilitator in question is always a peer struggling with all too many of the same anxieties and illnesses i am struggling with. i still cringe to remember the times i was the facilitator in question, but remain grateful i gave it a shot. the lessons are still in progress. . . for sure, i am much gentler when i question the current facilitators.

be gentle with all and patient with the process. recovery is not an off-the-shelf product.

note
i had to look up "ngo." non-government agency?
 
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