As you start to plan for your support group environment, one of the first things that you will need to decide on is who you would like to have be a part of your group.
- Will this group before men, women, adults, and/or teenagers?
- Will your group serve those have recently been diagnosed with a chronic illness, or those who have lived with illness for many years?
- Will the group help seniors who live at home independently as well as seniors who live in assisted living facilities?
- Are you able to offer something of encouragement to both people who are single and people who have families?
- Will your group be an encouragement for those who depend on an employed caregiver, as well as those who have volunteer caregivers such as family members?
- Will the group serve people who have very limited abilities and are bedridden a great deal of time, as well as those who are able to work full-time outside the home? People's abilities will vary to the extreme and perhaps change frequently.
- Do you plan to address parenting within your group and how it relates to chronic illness? And within this, will there be opportunities for parents of young children, as well as parents of adult children, to share?
- Will you keep in mind as you lead your group that there are those who are financially blessed, as well as many who are barely surviving on disability assistance?
- Do you feel comfortable serving those who live with a chronic illness themselves but are also a caregiver for someone such as for an aging parent or an autistic child?
- If your chronic illness support group has a Christian base, is anyone welcome?
- Will new members be able to join at any time, or will you have specific times of the year when they can come?
As you can see, when it comes to chronic illness and lifestyle, there is no such thing as "typical."
You may encounter a woman who has had multiple sclerosis for twenty years, but who has just recently began to use a wheelchair. She is grieving the loss of her mobility and the frustration of feeling like people don't treat her the same. She feels as though she has coped well with this disease for many years, but the recent loss of more of her abilities that defined her independence are causing her to go through a great deal of depression.
And sitting across the room you may find a woman in her seventies who has only recently discovered that she has a chronic illness and it is quickly changing her lifestyle! She is not one bit happy about going from being an active gal who felt 50 to nearly being home-bound. She is grieving the loss of abilities, especially her independence, especially since up until recently she was still able to drive safely.
Another factor to note: If you do not feel comfortable facilitating some people, you do have the privilege of announcing who the group is actually for at the beginning, since you are the leader. Although you may not wish to exclude anyone, many women, for example, prefer to lead a group for women only. Since there can be a great deal of shared intimacy and vulnerabilities within a support group atmosphere, and the divorce rate among the chronically ill is already high, you may wish to have preventative maintenance and not set up any awkward moments. It is important to remain confident in where your strengths and comfort zones reside.
As you are leading your group you don't worry about specifically addressing every situation that has been mentioned above, however, it is vital to keep in mind the variety of backgrounds and experiences that those who are attending your group bring with them when they enter the room.
The more efficiently you are able to understand the personalities, the background, and the experiences of those attending your group, the easier it will be to facilitate the group. You will not only be able to just encourage the members who attend, but also point out their strengths, and in turn, help them pass that encouragement onto others.
If you lead a support group or are considering it, don't miss Lisa Copen's new book, "How to Start a Chronic Illness Small Group Ministry." Over 300 pages full of steps on how to write a vision statement, promotion and attendance tips to what to do when everyone just vents your whole meeting. You will find hundreds of resources at Rest Ministries .
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