Setting up groups

There are many benefits to peer support groups. They can empower people to work to solve their own challenges, help people feel less alone and more understood and people can share information and keep one another up to date on news that is of interest to them.

 For these reasons and more, we have created some guidance on the following pages to support you to set up and maintain a peer support group.

How to guide

Spread the word

One of the biggest challenges when setting up a peer support group can be getting referrals and raising people’s awareness of peer support groups. Therefore, we recommend the following approaches:

  • Inform everyone in your team about your peer support group
  • Be clear on what, when, where, how and who the group is intended for
  • Create PDF posters that can easily be emailed or uploaded/downloaded to different platforms
  • Grab a space in team meetings and share the reasons why your peer support group will be beneficial and who in particular might be well suited to join the group. Try to be as clear as possible about who you think would benefit from the group. This will increase the likelihood of your group being a success as the participants will have more in common with each other and be at similar stages of their recovery.
  • Make it easy for the busy team to make referrals - ask for simple details and you do the rest
  • Don’t be afraid to keep reminding people. Our colleagues, and the people who use our services, are often very busy or preoccupied, so it isn’t surprising that they might forget about a few things along the way. However, you will be creating an extra support space for the people who use your services, so it’s highly likely that your colleagues and the people that come to the group will appreciate this

Thinking about group size and dynamics

When thinking about potential numbers for your peer support group, we recommend being mindful of the following:

  • The amount of people referred, or who show interest, might not be the same number of people who attend. Any peer support is optional, so people might change their mind before the group begins or simply not show up
  • Think about what you want your group to focus on and how many people you think would make an ideal group size, especially if you plan to do small group work or ask each participant to share ideas, as this will affect the timings of your sessions.
  • Try to get more information from your colleagues about the people they have recommended for the group. This will help you to build a group with a good dynamic, with people who will be comfortable with the content and the environment.
  • If you have a lot of interest in the group, you may have to create a waiting list, and let your colleagues know if their clients have been given a place or not

Making people feel welcome

Whether your group is online or face to face, it can be daunting for people to come to a group where they don’t know anyone. Here are some tips to provide a warm welcome:

  • Make contact with everybody who is interested in coming to the group. You can introduce yourself and explain a little bit about peer support and your plans for the group
  • If you have planned the sessions, you can tell people what the basic structure of the group will be so that they can decide whether this would work for them
  • You can also use the opportunity to ask people if there is anything that you could do/avoid doing that would help them to feel welcomed into the group. Any specific ground rules or adjustments you can make
  • As the group progresses, keep in regular contact with anyone who comes. Regular check-ins with people can help to alleviate any anxieties about the group and increase the chances of them returning for future sessions. This doesn’t have to be intensive contact, you might just ring everybody the day before the next session to check if they are still able to join and remind them of the times/venue etc.

Planning and Content

It’s easy to imagine why people would want to make sure their groups are filled with content (activities, speakers, scripts etc.). It can be quite overwhelming to think your group might become silent and boring for people. However, we think less is more and often find a lot of value in providing plenty of space for discussions. By being mindful of the following, we hope that your peer support group will run smoothly and result in lots of meaningful conversations:

  • Make sure you have a co-facilitator to run the group with you. It can be tricky to run a group on your own, especially if individuals in the group need extra one to one support at any point during the session. Find somebody in your team who is willing to support the group and share the load.
  • Try not to over plan. Keep it simple – a couple of ice-breaker questions should be sufficient to get conversations flowing. You might decide on a different topic for each session or have guest speakers to begin the group. Think about getting the balance right between group discussion, activities, and listening to a presentation, so that the group feels interactive and holds people’s attention
  • If your group is virtual, try to have someone on hand to support you with technical difficulties
  • Ask the group to create some ground rules for engagement. For example, giving people space to talk, being non-judgemental, not using mobile phones etc.
  • If your group is virtual, ask people to use the ‘raise hand’ functionality to prevent everyone from talking at once
  • Be prepared to be flexible with timings and session plans if you have them. Timings might give you a rough guide of how you expect the group to go, but in reality, longer for a group discussions might benefit the group members, or there may be times when discussions aren’t as expansive as you planned, which is OK too! Be clear about confidentiality. Make sure people are aware that you will be writing a brief note in their clinical records to say they attended the group. You could also discuss the times where you may feedback directly to a care co-ordinator, for example if there are concerns about safety/safeguarding. you can be clear about how you would do this and how you would communicate with a group member in that situation

Keeping the momentum

Providing a consistent time, day and space for your group will create regularity for the people who attend. We also recommend the following:

  • Keeping in contact with the people who attend your peer support group to see if they will be attending subsequent sessions
  • Advertise your group in monthly newsletters, send reminders or create posters to keep the group in everyone’s mind
  • Ask for regular feedback to improve the effectiveness of the group and evidence the value of the group
  • On the last group meeting, you could also help group members keep momentum by asking them what they will take from the group, and if they have set any specific goals for themselves. You could also encourage the group to continue to meet socially or to set up WhatsApp forums if you think this would be beneficial

Handling difficult situations

Occasionally, but inevitably, difficult situations might arise during your peer support groups. Try to remain calm and be confident that you have the ability to help and de-escalate any distressing experiences. The following tips might also prove useful in such circumstances too:

  • If a discussion turns negative due to someone’s experiences, try to rephrase the point in milder terms whilst validating any strong feelings – possibly invite the group for their comments
  • Offer one-to-one support after the session to prevent lengthy, unproductive discussions
  • Remember that active listening is key. Often people just want to be heard and understood, but also realise that they won’t find the answers to all their questions
  • If needed, revisit the ground rules, especially if you find group members speaking over one another or dominating discussions

Things to consider for virtual groups

  • Excel spreadsheets are a great way to keep on top of who is being referred and to track the contact made, responses and if they have had any confidentiality wavers or links sent
  • Keep safe - make sure all members read and respond to a confidentiality waver
  • BCC email addresses when sending invites and emails
  • Make sure you only have a number of people in your group that feels comfortable to you
  • Ask for support from your team or volunteers
  • Be the last to leave the group. Wait until all members have left before you exit the virtual room
  • Think about your boundaries with group members. You will hopefully build strong relationships with group members, or they may share things in the group that they might not have shared before. If this happens, you could encourage the person to share this with their care co-ordinator, or follow this up with the care co-ordinator yourself. It is likely that you will have other people that you support on a one to one basis outside of the group so be aware of how much you are taking on and whether this is manageable for you
  • Find a way to gather feedback and evidence the good work that you are doing- surveys etc

Things to consider for face-to-face groups

  • Prepare the room for the meeting – arrive 20 -30 minutes earlier to arrange furniture, ensure there are enough chairs, that you won’t be interrupted etc
  • Make sure everybody is familiar with the building you are in so that they can leave and come back during breaks and are aware of fire exits and toilets
  • Encourage members to offer support to one another
  • Encourage people to talk about themselves
  • Be conscious of ending the meeting in time. Perhaps ten minutes before the end of the session, ask for everyone’s attention and explain the meeting is coming to an end



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