Cover Image
close this bookPreventing Suicide: How to Start a Survivors Group (WHO, 2000, 50 p.)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentForeword
View the documentThe importance of self-help support groups
View the documentSurviving a suicide
View the documentImpact of suicide
View the documentSources of help for the bereaved
View the documentHow to initiate a self-help support group for survivors of suicide
View the documentDeveloping the operational framework for the group
View the documentIdentifying and gaining access to resources to support the group
View the documentGauging success
View the documentPotential risk factors for the group
View the documentSurvivor support in developing countries and rural areas
View the documentSurvivor support through “involvement therapy” in other activities
View the documentBack cover

Developing the operational framework for the group

The next step is to develop a set of operational guidelines and framework for the group's functioning. Areas that will need to be considered are discussed below:

Aims and Objectives

The group will need to establish its aims, in the form of a statement that describes the overall purpose or vision of the group. Similarly, it should fix its objectives - a set of clear statements that define the areas the group wishes to focus on.

Establishing the group's structure

Two broad types of structure may be considered as options:

1. “Open” and ongoing, without a set end-point, meaning that the group members attend and stop attending according to their needs. The group is permanent and meets at certain times throughout the month/year. It becomes known within the community as a resource for individuals to participate in as the need arises.

Advantages. Members are able to join at any point in time. The nature of the group makes the group appear open and available to the community in case of need. Members do not need to have an ongoing commitment, which can be overwhelming in the early stages of grief.

Disadvantages. Maintaining the leadership/facilitation of the group over a longer period may be difficult. Effort is needed to ensure that group leaders are recruited from the members and are prepared to take over and/or share the role. Maintaining the group's size can be difficult at times, since numbers will fluctuate. “Marketing” or spreading the word about the group is a continuing function. Some survivors may become stuck in the group rather than dealing with their own individual issues and moving forward in their healing process.

2. “Closed” and often time-limited, meaning that the group will meet for a specified time over a number of weeks, e.g. 8-10 sessions. A specific programme may be organized for the group of people who attend the initial meeting, the same people attending each week or session. Generally members cannot join after the second meeting has begun.

Advantages. The time-limit placed on the group clearly defines the start and finish for members. People get to know and trust each other, as membership is stable, which helps to build strong interpersonal relationships that may extend beyond the group meetings. Members are encouraged to explore their grief issues within the allotted time and then move on in their overall healing process.

Disadvantages. The structure limits referral of people to the group, because they have to wait until the next group starts. In smaller communities it may be difficult to recruit members who are committed to completing a programme.

Membership and group name

The people for whom the group is intended should be clearly defined. Thus it can be stated that membership is open to adults who have lost a family member or friend by suicide, and that the group is not intended for children under the age of 16 years. Children can be best served by attending specifically designed activities to meet their special needs. It can be stipulated that this is a rule to protect all who attend.

To avoid confusion, the name of the group should clearly indicate its intended membership, i.e. people who have lost someone by suicide, so that it cannot be misinterpreted to include those who have attempted suicide.

Format for Meetings

There are two formats for consideration:

1. Structured or formal. This format provides for a set procedure to be followed at each meeting. The group will decide on how the meeting will open, what will happen during the meeting, and how it will close. A structured format need not be restrictive, but can offer members stability because they know what to expect.

A suggested procedure might be as follows:

(a) Welcome and introductions;
(b) The “code of ethics” determined by the group is read out;
(c) Sharing experiences;
(d) Information or education on prepared topic;
(e) Recapitulation of the content of the meeting and planning for the next meeting;
(f) Refreshments and socializing.

2. Unstructured or informal. This format does not have a set agenda. The group discusses whatever issues arise from the participants' needs. It is recommended that step (b) of the procedure for the structured format be adhered to.

Roles and Responsibilities

There will be tasks that need to be carried out before, during and between meetings. Members need to offer to share in these tasks.

Shared responsibility gives individuals a sense of ownership of the group and is the core of self-help groups. The skills that members bring to the group will help to determine what role they volunteer to fulfil.

Tasks may include:

· Collecting the key and unlocking the room for the meeting;

· Getting the room ready for the meeting or putting it back the way it was afterwards;

· Looking after name tags for people as they arrive;

· Assisting with the refreshments;

· Facilitating the group (this role may be shared among members). The facilitator may be responsible for opening the meeting; guiding the proceedings according to the programme; keeping members on the subject; reminding members if they exceed their time allocation for input or interrupt other members; and summarizing and clarifying discussions;

· Being responsible for organizing projects as they develop, e.g. information sessions;

· Being involved in making the group known, e.g. through the distribution of printed material;

· Doing research on printed material for the group to use.

Code of ethics

The group collectively will need to establish a “code of ethics” or set of ground rules for the operation of meetings. Setting boundaries will let members know what to expect from the group and help to provide a safe place for people to meet. Within the sanctuary of this group, an individual is asked to express openly, often with complete strangers, feelings and emotions that are rarely known to anyone else, including family members. These rules need to be read out at the start of each meeting and copies distributed to all that attend. Some sample ground rules for consideration are listed below:

1. Group members will respect the rights of all to confidentiality. Thoughts, feelings and experiences shared by the group will stay within the group, which means that members have the privacy to share their thoughts and feelings.

2. Group members will recognize that thoughts and feelings are neither right nor wrong.

3. Group members will not be judgemental or critical of other members, and will show acceptance.

4. Group members have the right to share their grief and/or feelings or not. They should make some spoken contribution to the meeting, but if they wish just to “be there” at times the group will accept that.

5. Group members come to the group with empathy (fully comprehending the impact, having experienced the situation), not sympathy (sharing another persons' thoughts or emotions).

6. Group members appreciate that each person's grief is unique to that person. Respect and accept what members have in common and what is particular to each individual.

7. Group members respect the right of all the members to have equal time to express themselves and to do so without interruption.