How To Start a Support Group

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Sometimes individuals are interested in a support group but there is nothing offered in their area, yet there are other individuals who are traveling along the same cancer journey. Do not be afraid to start a group, but be realistic. It takes awhile to grow the numbers. But, a support group can be helpful even if it is only 3-4 people.

I have listed below some suggestions if you decide you want to start a support group.

  1. If there is one at your doctor's office or hospital, find out who leads it and talk to them about how they got it started.
  2. If there is a psychologist, nurse, or social worker from whom you've received treatment, ask them for advice if they have ever run a support group.
  3. Think about having an expert help you (as a volunteer) for the first few months to start the support group.
  4. Make some decisions (read my past few posts) about what type of support group you want.
  5. Find a place to hold the group. It generally should be a neutral place - not your home. Many town halls, local schools and churches will provide space for free.
  6. Decide how you will advertise. You can invite 2-3 people you know with cancer and ask them to try to bring at least 1 other person they know with cancer. You can also open it to family members and friends early on or always. Will you distribute flyers at your church, grocery store etc.? Always be sure to ask if you can post or distribute flyers as many places have rules against this.
  7. Plan the first few meetings for 90 minutes so you can do peer support (and education if you want), but also begin planning long-term for the group (e.g. what will be the meeting place each time, who will be included, do you want an expert there).
  8. Start only with about 8 people so the planning can go well. You can always invite about 12 and then 8 will show. If you have too many people in the beginning, it will be difficult to make decisions.
  9. Decide if there needs to be clear roles - like 1 person always sends a reminder, 1 person distributes flyers etc.
  10. You may wish to go to a bookstore or amazon.com to find some basic books on starting support groups. For Amazon, I went to their site and typed in support groups. This is the link I received http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=sr_pg_1/102-7418529-0634543?ie=UTF8&keywords=support%20groups&rh=i%3Aaps%2Ck%3Asupport%20groups&page=1. When I did this it listed several paperback books on effective support groups or how to lead a support group.

Be proactive. Start a group if one is needed. Get help starting it. If you are finding there are no established support groups that are appropriate for you in your community than there will be others feeling exactly as you do.

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About the Author


BA, MPH

Steve shares what he learned from his personal experience with cancer.

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