If you’ve been a friend of REACH for awhile now, you may have heard us list Support Groups among the list of the many services we provide. If you’ve ever wondered what happens inside these mysterious groups, we’re here to give you a glimpse behind closed doors.
What, exactly, IS a support group?
A support group consists of 6-8 survivors of domestic violence that get together once a week, for a period of 12 weeks. Sessions last an hour and a half, and are co-facilitated by REACH staff and volunteers. We operate on a “closed group” model, meaning that new people cannot join after week 2. The groups are what we call “psychoeducational” – meaning they are structured to educate participants around situations or conditions that may cause psychological stress (in this context things relating to current or past abuse). We cover 8 “core topics” and have a few more flexible weeks for additional relevant topics or more personal sharing.
Why this model?
The closed nature of the group helps to create a safe, supportive environment, so people know who and what to expect and can decide what they feel comfortable sharing. Folks who participate in groups are at various stages in their process – some may still be in an abusive relationship, some may have left, some may be years past the abuse. Running three 12-week cycles per year cycle allows for breaks, after which new group members can join, leaders can rejuvenate, and continuing members can evaluate group’s role in their process.
The psychoeducational component offers structure and direction, forward movement, makes sense of an experience that felt unique, validates, shares our expertise and knowledge, and offers a framework for an experience people are trying to make sense out of.
The discussion aspect allows time and space to talk about a topic outsiders don’t understand, personalizes the information and drives the information home, and gives people a chance to make personal connections, try on different relational skills and support one another.
What does it accomplish?
Two stories to illustrate the value of support groups:
The first, from a Community Advocate: “One time in group someone was talking about the abuse that was currently happening in their home in group. The group leader was able to ask questions about the person’s comfort calling the police and talked about when and how they could help. Within the week, that survivor, while being physically assaulted, was able to call the police who then came to her aid and had threats recorded over the phone line, to boot! The success lies in the fact that group planted that seed and as a result of her actions, her abuser was jailed for hurting her.”
The second, from a survivor who has benefitted from the support group experience: “I really needed group, for a long time, and I think this is why. I was so isolated and to be with others was first scary, but I quickly recognized them as friends, and then I looked forward to group. Group was were I was understood. Talking to people outside the group was disregulating: the explaining and defending, the abuse, the children, and then tending to upset that person too much. Group just got it, the fear, the waiting game to get out, strategies.”
How can I help?
There are several ways you help us make sure that support groups continue to be a safe place for survivors. Support groups are offered as part of both our Community and Residential programs so your financial support of those programs make this work possible. In addition, many of our facilitators are volunteers, so if it sounds like something you’d enjoy doing, contact us and we can train you and facilitate with you. It’s really helpful if we can offer childcare during support groups, so that parents can attend and not have to worry about babysitting. If you like hanging out with kids, this is a great way to contribute. Contact us for more information.