Do you wonder, as a facilitator, how to manage difficult discussions while fostering a supportive environment for your support group participants? Do you want to know how to stay confidently at the helm when navigating the twists and turns of group dynamics? This Quarterly Facilitator Training from Support After Abortion will help you feel more self-assured and equipped as a facilitator to help the women and men in your groups. 

Let’s take a look at ineffective “Wrong Way” and best practice “Right Way” facilitator approaches to three scenarios. You may be surprised to know, as you watch or read the role plays unfold, that all of these “Wrong Way” scenarios actually happened in real life. This is one webinar that you will want to watch in order to really see the interactions at work!

The role plays are acted by hosts Case Manager Heidi Inlow, who role plays the facilitator, and Special Projects Manager Karin Barbito, who role plays a group participant. 

SCENARIO 1: GETTING DERAILED BY PARTICIPANTS 

Facilitator Heidi opens the session asking people to share how they felt after the previous week’s session. Group participant Karin shared that she was “really bummed” because she really wants her partner to do the group with her, but he keeps shutting her out.

Wrong Way

  • When Heidi tried to respond to her comment, Karin continued interrupting.
  • Heidi let the interrupter drive the conversation, especially when she insisted that the facilitator share her own story, “Heidi, do you wish your partner would do healing with you?”
  • This derailed the group and tripped up the facilitator who got trapped in answering the question, which led the participant to jump to an unhealthy conclusion and feel worse than at the start.

Right Way

  • Facilitator Heidi started the session by briefly reviewing the group guidelines.
  • She mirrored Karin’s words in responding to her question.
  • Heidi remained in the driver’s seat by reminding Karin that “we’re focusing on Key 1 right now.” When Karin continued pushing, Heidi calmly restated the guidelines for allowing everyone time to speak. “I want to honor what you want to share, so maybe when we’re done, if we have time you can stay on longer, and you and I can talk through this a little bit. How does that feel for you? Do you want to stay on a little bit longer?” When Karin declined that invitation, Heidi said she would reach out to her after the group.
  • Then Heidi immediately pivoted, saying “Who wants to go next to share what they’re feeling from Key 1?”

Discussion and Q&A 

The mistake was that the facilitator got in the boat with the participant. Heidi shared that it can be uncomfortable and a struggle even for her as a seasoned facilitator to do this. 

Is it more important for each partner to go through healing individually first or together?

Heidi explained that it’s a very individual decision. She shared that she has learned that “my journey is my journey. I can’t make my partner do it with me and I need to honor that. I need to focus on my healing.” She explained the ripple effect of healing – that by going through healing yourself, that will impact the people around you.

What do you do when your partner is willing to go through healing with you?

Talk together, but encourage each partner to do the work themselves, Heidi advised.

Karin agreed, “It’s their healing journey, so however they want to do that, meet them where they are.”

“We can’t guide them in what direction to go,” Heidi said “or force someone who isn’t ready.”

How do you support the “know-it-all”?

The attendee shared the challenge as a facilitator with participants who always have an answer for every question, and might share a 20-minute story. She spoke about clients who chime in saying, Oh, I experienced that too. So, let me give you advice on how I did it and what worked for me. and take over the group time.

Karin pointed out that one of the recommended ground rules is to not give advice. “So, I would nip that in the bud right away.” She advised facilitators to go over the ground rules again explaining that participants can relate to each other, but “there’s no cross talking, no advice giving.” She said, “I have a really firm hand on my groups that way because you have to create a safe place for them so everyone can share, everyone gets their chance.” She continued, “Unasked advice can really ruin the environment.”

Heidi shared that because she likes to talk and give advice, she has learned to take a pause and ask herself questions like, Am I active listening, or am I trying to plan what to say next? and Is this important, or do I just want to be heard?

How would you suggest supporting a participant who keeps bringing up the same thing every time?

Karin suggested that the participant may be repeatedly bringing it up because they don’t feel heard. “I would validate what they’re feeling,” Karin said, “and become curious and ask questions differently to see if that person can see” what is causing them to “think about this over and over again.”

If it keeps happening, then Heidi advised facilitators to validate that this is important to the person, remind the group about the guideline to allow everyone a chance to speak, and offer  to discuss it with that participant outside the group session. 

SCENARIO 2: HANDLING QUESTIONS

Karin role played calling the After Abortion Line saying, “I had an abortion five months ago, I have two kids, and I feel like my mothering instincts are gone. Did you personally experience this, or do you know someone who has?”

Wrong Way

  • Heid: “Wow, golly. Feeling like you’ve lost your mothering instinct. I haven’t experienced this. I haven’t heard this a lot, but it has to be common.
  • Karin starts attacking Heidi because she feels like she can’t relate to her and that what she’s telling her doesn’t make sense.
  • Heidi: “No, no, no settle down…”
  • Karin gets more frustrated and escalates her verbal attacks.
  • Heidi: “No, that’s not what I’m doing. I’m here to help you, okay?”
  • Heidi gets defensive and starts telling the client all the reasons why Heidi’s personally a wonderful helper, ending with “People tell me I’m a great listener. I’m here for you.”
  • Karin says, “Well, you’re not listening to me now.” and hangs up.

Right Way

  • Heidi says, “I’m sorry for what you’re going through.”
  • Heidi mirrors Karin’s language and explains abortion affects people in many different ways. 
  • Heidi asks, “When you say your mothering instincts are gone, what does that mean for you?” which led to a compassionate, productive dialogue with the client.

Q&A 

Shouldn’t we have answered her questions?

Heidi affirmed that she also struggles with whether or not to answer questions clients ask. She explained that on the After Abortion Line, Support After Abortion validates and relates. “We need to learn more about what the client is sharing and stay curious about what she really means,” she said.

In a support group setting (versus the role play scenario of a triage call line), Heidi urged facilitators to remember that in group, they ask the questions. She suggested pulling other participants in by saying, Karin, that’s a great question. How about anyone else here? Is this something anyone else has struggled with?

“A support group is to help clients feel more normal and not alone,” Heidi said, “so let your participants answer the question.”

What should I say when a participant says something that really throws me?

Assuming what they shared was some kind of trauma, Karin encouraged facilitators to “First say, I’m so sorry you went through that. Then if you don’t have an answer, don’t make one up. Let there be silence.”

Heidi conveyed that this happened to her recently on the After Abortion Line when a client shared something, and Heidi just held the silence. After a bit, she said to the client, I don’t even know what to say, I’m so sorry. And, the client received that.

“When we stumble through and make something up,” Heidi said, “We lose that sincerity.”

Heid also urged facilitators to make sure their faces don’t show their shock or surprise. She described a time a group participant shared something and she could only say, I don’t even know how to lead that. Thank you for sharing. I’m so sorry you went through that.

Should we ask what city or state they’re calling from and would they be open to receiving counseling from their nearest PRC?

Heidi explained that the goal is to get clients the support they need, but we need to navigate that with what the client is comfortable with. She described a recent client who she referred for support who didn’t want to share her name or location. She spoke about the value of offering options such as in-person or virtual. Virtual does require that type of info. But, if the client wants in-person, then you might say, That’s great, I want to find the right fit for you. Would you share your zip code? When a client wants in-person, but isn’t comfortable giving their name, we give them the provider’s information so they can contact them directly. “Don’t be alarmed if they don’t want to share their information,” Heid said.

What’s the Best Way to Answer the Phone?

Wrong Way

– Hi, this is the After Abortion Line, how can I help you? 

Right Way

– Hi, this is Heidi with the Support Line, how can I help you? 

Karin explained sharing your name up front can make clients feel more comfortable. Heidi pointed out that, in the “Right Way” scenario, she only said “with the Support Line.” She explained that even saying the word abortion can trigger people and make them feel overwhelmed.

“Every time we lead a group, every time we pick up the phone,” Heidi said, “we often hear from clients that this is their first time talking to someone about their experience.” It’s important to be mindful that, while we have these conversations with people all day, their emotions and experiences are new for them. 

SCENARIO #3 How to Handle Faith Conversations within a Secular Group?

Heidi opens the session and invites participants to share how they were working through anger to forgiveness in Key 3. Karin jumped in and enthusiastically shared about reconnecting with her faith and how meaningful that has been for her.

Wrong Way

  • Heidi gushes with approval and starts talking about God and the joys of faith. She encourages Karin to reconnect with her church and says she would help her with that. Then she asks the group if anyone else has experienced this too.

Right Way

  • Heidi says, “Thank you for trusting the group to share that. I’m happy that you’ve been able to walk through your anger and forgiveness. It took a lot of bravery to share that. How about anyone else? Would anyone else like to share what’s helped you move through anger to forgiveness?”
  • Karin interrupts to share more about her faith experience.
  • Heidi says, “I totally understand you’re on this high, and I want to make sure you can be heard. How about if I reach out and we can schedule some time one-on-one. This will help us honor our secular group that we’re having. Not everybody is on the same boat. So, I’ll reach out after group, and we can talk a little more. Okay?
  • Karin agrees and thanks Heidi.

Discussion

Heidi discussed what a secular group is and how to honor that, and what the facilitator’s role is with that. “It’s not that faith won’t come out, because it can be part of someone’s journey,” Heidi said. “But, in a secular group, the facilitator’s role is to maintain neutrality and keep a secular group secular.”

Q&A

What is the reason that we as facilitators don’t talk about faith or encourage the faith talk?

Karin explained that when people contact the After Abortion Line, we meet them where they are and provide them with options – in-person or virtual, religious or secular, etc. “And if someone doesn’t believe in God and wants a secular program,” Karin said, “for us to send them to a support group where God’s going to be talked about – not only by the participants, but by the facilitator – we’re not honoring them or their preferences. And they’re not going to trust us.”

“We can’t censor what someone is going to say about their own personal walk,” Karin said, “but we can minimize it within the group because it’s violating other people’s boundaries.”

Heidi pointed out the need to be mindful of our facial expressions and asked attendees to recall how she was effusive and matching Karin’s enthusiasm in the Wrong Way role play. Whereas in the Right Way role play, she remained neutral.

She emphasized the need for facilitators to respond the same to all participants, using the example of a participant sharing they were finally able to talk with their partner and get through their anger. “We’re going to respond, Great job, that had to be hard. That’s so brave of you. And, that’s helpful for you to get through your anger and move on to forgiveness.

What’s percentage of women don’t want to talk about God in their healing?

Support After Abortion’s research shows that only 16% of women want to start with a God message. Karin reminded attendees that a person’s desire to not talk about God doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t believe in God. She shared how after her own abortion experience, she believed God would condemn her.

Heidi advised listening and validating what they’re looking for. If they talk a lot about God or their faith, you might say, You’ve talked about God… and discuss secular and religious options and ask their preference.

Have you ever let the participants know that everyone will be honored in the group no matter whether they have a faith or not, atheist, Catholic, that all will be honored as they share? And would you use the word secular with the group?

Karin confirmed that using the word secular is appropriate and intentional. She mentioned the secular Keys to Hope and Healing introductory abortion healing books that Support After Abortion developed in partnership with The Word Among Us. “There’s no God in it,” she said.

“If someone is asking for a secular support group, that’s what we’re going to provide them with,” Karin said. “So, faith is off the table from a facilitator standpoint.” 

She reiterated that people may mention their faith, or that they’re a Catholic, Muslim, atheist, etc, but the facilitator must not allow the conversation about or on religion to continue. “Doing so violates someone’s preferences,” she explained, “such as the participant who said, I want a secular group. I don’t want to talk about religion. Any religion.

“And we developed that [secular Keys to Hope and Healing] resource because so many people are saying that to us,” Karin said.

Heidi encouraged providers who want to offer secular abortion healing groups to set them up for success from the begining with the right group description, registration, guidelines, and introduction. For example you could say, This is our secular abortion healing group. We’re using Keys to Hope and Healing. We’re all coming in here with different backgrounds. As your facilitator, I’m going to honor the secular approach. It doesn’t mean that we can’t share, but just know that we’re going to make sure that everyone feels heard. If there’s ever a time that something feels hard or triggering, when someone talks about this or that, let me know so we can walk through that.

She urged facilitators to invite participants to contact them and explained that God and religion conversations can be very triggering for some people due to their lived experiences and potential traumas connected to God.

CONCLUSION

“Abortion healing work can feel lonely,” Heidi said, “and we don’t every want anyone to feel that way.” She encouraged providers to reach out to her if they have any facilitating questions they would like to discuss further.

NEXT STEPS

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