DBSA support groups are not required to operate according to a rigidly prescribed formula. The sample meeting format shown here incorporates the elements used by many of our groups and is intended as a guide. Facilitators use this as a starting point for the group’s discussion of participant needs and how the group can be structured to meet those needs. All facilitators are peers.

  • Gathering time
  • Welcome
  • Review what will happen at the meeting
  • Review discussion guidelines
  • Check-In
  • Discussion
  • Close the meeting

Detailed Meeting Agenda

Gathering or social time

  • Facilitator welcomes people . . . breaks the ice

Facilitator or one or more of your volunteers greet people as they arrive and thank them for coming; encourage newcomers to sign in on the list provided, including telephone and e-mail address, if available. Volunteers can invite guests to have refreshments if these are available and help introduce newcomers to others in the room.

DBSA recommends no more than 10-12 participants in each support group.

Group Welcome

  • Brings people together and gets their attention . . . provides a focus point

What facilitator might say:

“Hello, everyone, and thank you for coming to the DBSA support group tonight. We know that it may not have been easy for you to make the decision to attend. My name is Katie, and I’d like to welcome you.”

The facilitator sets the stage by stating the purpose of the support group and add any needed “housekeeping” announcements: where people can pick up materials, location of restrooms and water fountains, when the meeting is scheduled to end, etc.

A review what will happen at the meeting

  • Moves the group to the business part of the meeting ; has the same information so everyone knows what to expect.

What facilitator might say:

“Now it’s time to review the format and schedule for the meeting. Tonight we will follow a procedure recommended by DBSA and designed to give everyone an opportunity to participate as they are comfortable. First we will check in: each of us will have an opportunity to introduce ourselves by first name and tell us if you have a topic you’d like to discuss at tonight’s meeting.

“After the check-in, we will have a talk about our mood disorders and share experiences, personal feelings, information, and strategies for living successfully with these illnesses. The discussion will last until [time] when the meeting will end.

“Before we begin to talk with each other, I’d like to review the guidelines for our discussion.”

DBSA support group guidelines may be read aloud. Stating guidelines at each meeting is valuable for many reasons. It ensures that everyone is responsible for following the same guidelines and helps people learn and commit to the group standards.

This is also the time for the facilitator to outline her/his role. To facilitate means to assist or make easier. Facilitators, therefore, assist the group by making easier the conversations and sharing that goes on at self-help meetings.

Each person has an opportunity to introduce themselves by their first name and tell the group if there’s a topic they wish to discuss.

Facilitator review of what will happen at the meeting

This is also the time for the facilitator to outline her/his role. To facilitate means to assist or make easier. Facilitators, therefore, assist the group by making easier the conversations and sharing that goes on at self-help meetings.

Each person has an opportunity to introduce themselves by their first name and tell the group if there’s a topic they wish to discuss.

Check-in

  • A chance for each person to find out who else is at the meeting and what their issues are . . . to know that they’re not alone

What you might hear:

“My name is Mary, AND . . .

“I think I might be depressed—I’m not sure.”
“I’m here to learn more about…”
“I’m just here to listen.”
“I just spent two weeks in the hospital.”
“I want to know how I can make my brother stay on his medication.”
“I was just diagnosed with bipolar disorder and need more information.”
“I just can’t go on the way I have been.”
“My doctor told me I should come to this meeting.”
“My medication just isn’t working.”
[Crying]
[Silent]

The facilitator and/or other group members briefly respond to each person as a way of acknowledging his or her presence. This is not the time to start discussion of specific questions or topics; keep the introductions going. It is natural for some people to want to tell their whole story now but it is essential that the group facilitator remind each person that tins is a check-in time only, and that everyone will have the opportunity to talk more soon.

What the facilitator might say after each person has an opportunity to speak:

“Thank you, Mary.”
“We’re glad you’re here.”
“Thank you for sharing that.”
“Each of us has a lot of questions. We can talk more about [particular subject of interest] after we’re done checking in.”
“It took a lot of courage for you to come here tonight—thank you.”
“No one is required to speak. We’re glad you’re here.”

Open group discussion

The heart of why a DBSA support group exists. Sometimes a topic of common concern has been identified during the check-in, and the facilitator can begin discussion using this topic. For example, if several participants have expressed frustration about communicating with their family, the facilitator might say, “It sounds as if a number of us are having challenges in working with our families. As we go around the circle tonight, you are all welcome to address the challenges or successes you have had in communicating with your family along with anything else you’d like to discuss. Perhaps we can determine a number of possible approaches for ourselves in dealing with this concern.”

The facilitator can also begin discussion by asking if anyone would like to be the first to share or just ask the person to their left or right to begin.

Close the meeting

  • Brings closure to the session

Process:

  • 10- or 15-minute notification before discussion is scheduled to end.
  • Members asked to make any final comments or summaries.
  • Briefly summarize what has happened at the meeting.

Facilitator may ask people how they feel the group has helped them and how they will move forward on their recovery journeys before the next meeting. Some sample questions and comments include:

  • What will we take away from the meeting that will help us?
  • What will we commit to doing as we move forward into the week?
  • What new strengths will we explore?
  • What part of our recovery or wellness plan will we work on this week?
  • Announce next meeting date/time/place OR (if this is your first meeting) get commitment from attendees to meet again and determine date/time/place.
  • Encourage new attendees to attend 3 or 4 times before deciding whether a support group is right for them or not.
  • Encourage attendees to tell others about the group, including their doctor/other mental health professional.
  • Ask for volunteers to help with the next meeting.
  • Refer to fact sheets or other information/materials that are provided to participants.
  • Thanks everyone for coming

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