Our inaugural Quarterly Facilitator Meeting on January 24 focused on Group Guidelines. Co-Hosts Greg Mayo, Men’s Healing Strategist, and Heidi Inlow, Case Manager, lead a discussion and offered practical tips and strategies for implementing guidelines within healing support groups.

WHY HAVE GUIDELINES

Greg shared the importance of guidelines for a group. “They let each member know what’s expected of them,” Greg said, “and what they can expect from the facilitator and other participants. Without that they don’t know the rails and boundaries.”

“I’ve learned that guidelines provide me boundaries as a facilitator,” Heidi said. She described choosing not to set boundaries once when she thought the group was small enough it was unnecessary. “Those were the most discombobulated, chaotic discussions of any group I’ve led,” she said. She explained that she has found guidelines provide safety and ownership for both participants and facilitators.

Heidi also pointed out that many participants in abortion healing and Unraveled Roots support groups “…have not experienced healthy boundaries, so we get to show a different way of walking through difficult stuff.”

One participant in the training shared that her organization “just tweaked our guidelines and incorporated suggestions from Support After Abortion.” She said that they explain to participants that guidelines “create a safe space for you and enable each person to feel heard.”

START YOUR FIRST SESSION WITH GUIDELINES

Greg and Heidi kicked off the training with a video role play where Greg acted as a facilitator and Heidi and Karin Barbito, Special Projects Manager, played participants. The video illustrated right and wrong ways for a facilitator to present group guidelines to a small group.

As the facilitator in the role play, Greg started the simulated group’s first session by going over the guidelines. He did this by reading and discussing the first guideline, then inviting each participant to read a guideline, and continued that pattern until they finished the list.

One of the facilitators in the training said, “I loved how you had everyone speak.” She described how participants are often nervous to speak up in groups, and including them in voicing the guidelines can help with this. “Hearing their own voice speaking safe words – not their own words,” she said, “starts the interaction and creates the environment.”

Karin showed how discussing guidelines up front gives participants the opportunity to ask questions about how the group will operate.

Greg then advised facilitators to mention that first week that they will touch on the guidelines every week.

HANDLING COARSE LANGUAGE

One topic that came up in the training is how to handle situations when participants use swear words or language that may be offensive to others. The participants discussed situations where they had faced this issue and that having guidelines would have helped.

In suggesting compassion and caution in handling language, Greg gave an example of a poorly-handled language situation in a group he participated in years ago. Halfway into the group session, a newcomer started sharing his story and used some cuss words. He caught himself, apologized and went to keep talking. However, the group leader interrupted with a scathing attack about how wrong and sinful swearing was. The guy who needed healing never returned. “When you take someone who is broken and wounded, and they finally open up,” Greg said, “and then you shame and humiliate him in front of others, you’ve not only not helped him heal, you’ve wounded him and made it worse.”

Greg offered a suggestion for a healthy way to address language issues. He shared that in his last group, one of the guys used a few choice words. Greg sent him a private chat, “Hey, let’s watch the language, cool?” And it never happened again.

Greg and Heidi both advised facilitators to be conscious of where people are coming from and to make allowances. This involves more than customs, race, ethnicity, or religion. The key is to remain curious and not shut down people or conversations.

Heidi shared that the first time she told someone her story, “she didn’t shut down my language” and that was important to enabling her to speak her truth. She explained that at some point people need to stop stuffing their pain and deal with it. “We may be the first place someone shares their story. We need patience.”

She addressed the importance of keeping balance pointing out that unlike working one-on-one with someone, they’re not the only person in the group. Dovetailing with that point, a facilitator noted that coarse language can be a reminder of a painful past and a trigger for other group participants.

“If someone is showing repeat patterns,” Heidi said, “learn more about what they’re going through. That may be a phone call after the group session. That will make them feel seen and heard.”

NOT RESCUING PARTICIPANTS

“In my first group, I really struggled with not rescuing people,” one facilitator shared. She talked about the value in that guideline and said she tells participants, “getting comfortable with our own emotions is important” to helping them heal.

Heidi agreed, “It can be really uncomfortable to have thirty seconds of silence. But, what comes from that is really neat.”

Greg added that common recovery phrases include “work your own program” or “don’t work my program.” The idea being that each person has their own junk to work on. “If I’m focused on comforting you trying to make you feel better,” Greg said, “I’m not working on my own stuff.”

He gave a specific example of someone who struggles with codependency: “It’s natural to focus on others, and they need to focus on themselves.”

HOW TO ADDRESS A MISSED GUIDELINE

The next video role play showed Heidi as a participant stepping outside the boundary of confidentiality and Greg as facilitator gently but firmly and unemotionally enforcing the boundary.

“As facilitators, I don’t want to call out something,” Heidi said, “but a misstep can knock you down.” She gave an example of a long-ago Reproductive Loss group in which a participant showed up on camera with a baby, which was very difficult for the other participants grieving the losses of their babies. Heidi shared that she didn’t know how to handle it on the spot, so she ignored it. The result has that one participant was very upset and never returned. And the one with the baby felt horrible. Heidi said if there had been a group guideline about not having children on camera, that situation would likely never have happened. And if it did, she would have had a clear course of action. She could make a gentle reminder of the guideline and say, “If this doesn’t work with you today, we can meet privately.”

WEEKLY GUIDELINE UPDATES

The third video role play showed a wrong way and a right way to start of the following sessions with guidelines. In the wrong way role play Greg the facilitator just jumped into the meeting without any mention of guidelines). In the right way role play, he gave a short reminder of guidelines – top level without details.

If you realize you forgot to start the meeting that way – as Heidi said she has done – pause when you remember and say, “I’m sorry, I didn’t start with our guidelines, let’s review that really fast…”

Greg encouraged facilitators to do this, even if they receive some pushback. He shared that a guy in one of his groups siad, “Why do we have to do this every week.” Greg’s response was, “We don’t have to, but we’re going to because…” and briefly reiterated the importance of guidelines.

NEXT STEPS

Click here to watch the video of this training.

Click here to download Support After Abortion’s recommended Group Guidelines.

Click here to register for the next Abortion Healing Provider webinar.

Click here to register for the next Men’s Healing Matters webinar.

Click here to register for the next Quarterly Facilitator Training.

Click here to access Support After Abortion’s Resource Library.

Click here to explore Support After Abortion’s services, resources, and training for Abortion Healing Providers.