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After a brief welcome, a discussion of ground rules - including confidentiality - and an overview of the purpose of the meeting, the group members can introduce themselves briefly, and answer such questions as, "What is one thing you'd like to see come out of this group?" and "What is something positive you did this week?"

Next, the facilitator may ask if anyone has any pressing concerns that they would like to discuss. A meeting may consist of people sharing concerns and support, or it may be organized around a speaker or a specific topic.

Agenda: Below is a possible agenda for a two-hour peer support meeting:

  • Welcome, discussion of ground rules and meeting overview: 5 minutes

  • Introductions: 10 minutes

  • Support: 50 minutes

  • Business, e.g., decision-making, projects that the group wants to address, etc.: 30 minutes

  • What needs to get done before the next meeting? Figure out tasks, delegate responsibilities, decide on the next meeting time and place: 10 minutes

  • Wrap-up: 10 minutes

  • Circulate contact list, pass out literature, close meeting: 5 minutes

Active Listening: Even with a well-planned agenda, things can go awry if members are not respectful of, and attentive to, one another.

Here are some tools for active listening from the National Mental Health Consumers' Self-Help Clearinghouse Tools for Developing a Self-Help Group:

  • Restating: Repeat what the speaker said in your own words. This reassures the speaker that she has been understood.

  • Questioning: Ask questions to clarify details, sort through possible inconsistencies, and gather further information.

    Demonstrate that you are interested, and that you care about understanding the speaker.

  • Focusing: Describe what the conversation is about. Put the speaker's thoughts and ideas into a larger context.

  • Reflecting: Identify what you perceive to be the speaker's underlying feelings.

  • Validating: Legitimize a person's statement by indicating that what they have said makes sense to you.

Resolving Conflicts: In any group, conflicts are bound to arise. Here are some tips, also from Tools for Developing a Self-Help Group, on how to resolve conflicts courteously.

  • Flare-ups: If two group members get into a heated discussion, summarize the points made by each, and then turn the conversation back to the group.

  • Grandstanding: When one group member seems to be monopolizing the conversation, give the speaker credit for her contribution, and ask the speaker to reserve her other points for later. Ask the group if they would like to comment on what the speaker has said.

  • "Broken Record": If any individual has repeated the same point several times, assure the speaker that her point has been heard. Repeat the point a final time, and then ask the group if they want to continue discussing it.
  • Interrupting: When a group member is interrupted, step in immediately, and ask the interrupter to allow the speaker time to finish her thought.

  • Criticism: If one group member is repeatedly critical, and the criticism is legitimate, validate her feelings, but encourage her to work toward change and focus on the positive. Try assigning the individual an achievable task that addresses her concerns.



Peer support groups are inclusive: As long as a safe environment is maintained, people are accepted whether or not their behavior or ideas fit with the other members of the group.

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