Don’t assume if we offer it, they will come’

Good group facilitation/interesting topics key

It is sometimes difficult to know why some support groups flounder and others thrive, yet there are several tactics organizers can use to help ensure that their group will be successful. The first may seem obvious, but it is vital that those who may benefit from the support group learn about the meetings so they can attend.

Organizers often turn to local advertising outlets such as the newspaper, and that is a good place to start, says Barb Roseborough, MSN, RN, CCE, education specialist at Saint Vincent Health Center in Erie, PA. "People who are interested in attending or have specific concerns that might prompt them to try a support group have a place to look for that information, and that is helpful," she explains.

However, many people who would benefit from a support group might not be motivated to look for a group on their own initiative, so it is important to reach the target population in some other way as well, says Rose Konsel, RN, BSN, CWOCN, coordinator of the Erie Ostomy Support Group.

For example, the Erie Ostomy Support Group reaches new ostomy patients by placing a flyer about the group in their discharge education packet. The flyer describes the support group and lists the dates and times it meets. It also lists the topics to be covered at future meetings.

Many of the support group leaders at Ridgecrest (CA) Regional Hospital place flyers in the waiting room at the hospital as well as in local clinics and physician offices, says Kristin Henden, CHES, education director at the hospital.

A hard sell is not necessary. "Simply provide information and invite patients," advises Rita R. Miller, RN, RRT, coordinator of patient education at Indiana University Hospital in Indianapolis. However, the appeal of a support group seems to depend upon the individual, she says.

"We see similarities in specific generations of people. For example, baby boomers are by far the most interested group. The newest generation to come of age never wants to participate," says Miller.

There almost seems to be a "support group personality," says Roseborough. Many who attend seem to enjoy the interaction and sharing of information. Yet some who attend are very quiet and seem to just want to listen. They only speak if a skilled facilitator is able to draw them out, she says.

Help people belong

To keep people coming back, groups need to be kept interesting but also all-inclusive. Group leaders must go out of their way to welcome new participants and perhaps, over time, ask a few of the people who attend regularly to become greeters, says Roseborough.

Creating a social environment by offering coffee or tea or some sort of refreshments seems to break the ice, she says. But it is important to strike a balance. Most people who attend support groups are not looking for a social club. It is important that groups not be a waste of time. Group leaders who are trained in facilitation and come prepared to help create an interesting discussion are vital to a group’s success, says Roseborough.

"It is always good for a facilitator to have a couple of discussion topics or a newspaper article they have read that will spark interest," she says. Leaders who understand group dynamics will be able to generate discussion that makes the group beneficial to those who participate.

Other factors that keep group attendance between 15 and 25 participants include well-organized and well-run meetings that start and end on time. The monthly meetings are from 6:30-7:30 p.m. on Thursday evenings, and people don’t have to do much more than show up. "People want to have minimal involvement. They don’t want to be involved in leadership or have anything that is required of them," says Konsel.

Being allowed to bring a spouse or significant other seems to improve attendance as well, she says. Henden agrees. Prostate cancer survivors are encouraged to bring their wives to the support group meetings at Ridgecrest Regional Hospital, and that seems to be one factor that keeps attendance high. 

Need More Information?

  • Kristen Henden, CHES, Education Director, Ridgecrest Regional Hospital, Ridgecrest, CA 93555. Telephone: (760) 446-0643. E-mail: k.hein@rrh.org.
  • Rose Konsel, RN, BSN, CWOCN, Wound, Ostomy, Continence Nurse, Saint Vincent Health Center, Erie, PA 16544.
  • Rita R. Miller, RN, RRT, Coordinator of Patient Education, Indiana University Hospital, Room 3865, Clarian Health Partners Inc., Indianapolis, IN. Telephone: (317) 278-4281. E-mail: rmiller@Clarian.org.
  • Barb Roseborough, MSN, RN, CCE, Educational Specialist, Educational Services, Saint Vincent Health Center, Erie, PA 16544. Telephone: (814) 452-5686. E-mail: Brosebor@svhs.org.