Support Groups

I got an email the other day from a fellow survivor who had tried to start a Meetup group of survivors in his area.

 My name is Timothy and I’m a survivor of child abuse.  I’m contacting you from Dupage county IL.  About four months ago I started a support group and let it grow on its own.  I’ve seen a few people come and go but no one has really stuck around.  I’m not a trained therapist or councilor.  I’m just another survivor.  The group is a peer to peer group.  The group can be found on the web site  The problem is that people sign up and never actually attend meetings or they attend one meeting and thats it.  One or two people started out as regulars but it seemed like they were pushed into attending.  When it seemed like they were starting to open up they stopped coming.  I’m at
the point were I believe that if I wish to grew the group and really do some good I have to go outside of  I can’t tell if you do any work in my area or have any suggestion of who I might be able to contact.  I’m hoping that your group and or other similar groups might be able to get the word out.  Please email me back and let me no your thoughts on the matter.  Thank you for your assistance.

His experience is something that I know many survivors who try to create groups, whether in person or online, have had. I wish I had an answer. If I did the online network I’ve tried to build wouldn’t be floundering, and I wouldn’t seriously be considering just shutting it down. There’s something about being committed to a peer-to-peer group without burning out that is difficult for survivors. Even when you have a good group going,  it can be very hit and miss as to whether it continues. We all have lives outside the group, and we can’t always be focused on keeping it going, so it requires having a large enough base to be able to continue on without one or two of the regulars when they can’t be there. But, how do you get that base of members? Good question!

Has anyone out there gotten even a small group of local people together to support one another, or even just be social with other people who understand what it’s like to go through what we have? I’d love to hear your advice, and I’m sure Timothy would as well!

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  1. Hi,

    I started a support group for women 4 years ago. It has grown from 2 facilitators to 6 from one group going at a time to 2 groups going at the same time each with 2 facilitators and 6 participants. It started with myself, seeing the need for a support group in my area that was different then a support group run by a counselor. Our support groups are peer to peer but we have very specific things we ask/require of anyone wanting to participate. Being a survivor myself, I understood how easy it is to stop processing when I probably needed it the most. That’s the reason for the requirements. It’s not to make people feel locked in but it is to say, “Ok, I am going to dedicate the next 12 weeks to doing more emotional work and healing”. There’s 2 benefits to this. First, it’s a commitment and you are made a ware of it and agree to it right up front. We have a policy that if you miss 2 meetings you may be asked to leave and come back when a new group is started. Secondly, it clearly shows there is an end. You don’t have to “work” and process forever. In fact, it is best to take breaks from the work and really try to apply the insight you have gained from the group. I should also mention another benefit is finding a connection and creating a bond with others who have been through similar events and can relate to how your feeling. It’s very powerful when you realize you are not the only one who feels the way you do.

    I visited and I have to tell you that right away, as a childhood abuse survivor looking for support, I did not feel safe. I felt overwhelmed. I feel that as a survivor, we have a natural tendency to want to hide and still be secretive. Part of the work is getting beyond that but if someone who has just started on this journey of dealing with their abuse went to I don’t think they would stay very long. That could be one reason why your group is not growing.

    As far as getting people to stay and continue participation in the group, I believe you have to require something of them; some sort of commitment. For example, if you go to a professional counselor most likely you have at least a co-payment to pay. This, for some people, adds a level of responsibility and commitment to this part of the process. We require that every participant pay for their own workbook. It’s about $20. There have been some who have come to us and let us know they can’t afford that right now. We ask them what they can afford, $1 a week? – $2 a week? We do this because it is a way for the participant to feel responsible to maintain their commitment to this process for the next 12 weeks. We could offer to give the book to them for free but that would negate a greater good.

    So, to sum up here, First, I think you need a website more dedicated to your cause. Feel free to visit our website; Second, I feel it is important to set up some way to require your participants to feel responsible and committed to the process. Third, have an end date in sight. You can always start another group after the end date.

    One more thing, don’t be discouraged when things look like they are drying up. We have been there many times over the past 4 years. I always keep in mind that there is at least one person who is going to need this group so I will always offer it even if it is just one person.

    We hope to be able to offer groups to men in the future. We feel strongly we need male facilitators and to date, we have not had any volunteers. Our curriculum can be used for men and women.

    Hope this isn’t too much info all at once. I am very passionate about these groups. If there is anything else you would like to discuss or questions you would like to ask, I can be reached through the website. Unfortunately, we are only in the NH area right now but we do hope to grow. I started the group in NH and have recently moved to MD. I am in the process of starting a group here. When that is established I will put the info on the website. My vision is for REAL Grace to be a true network of support groups.

    1. Thanks for sharing your insights Karen. I do find it interesting that you started a group specific to women. I’ve found, in my own experience from being involved in an in-person group, that gender differences play a huge role. Many women who were sexually abused by men had a great deal of difficulty with me being in the group, and I, as someone also sexually abused by a male, have a hard time with male-led groups. On the flip side, some males molested by a female have the same problem with female led-groups, or simply get overwhelmed being in a group made up of largely females. When you start talking about sexual abuse survivors, unfortunately, these issues can play out in real time, and it can be quite ugly.

      Even online, starting a group as a male has opened me to questioning and suspicion from female survivors. They simply don’t want to interact with a male-led group, even though I really tried very hard to stay in the background.

      So, would he be better starting a male survivor group? Maybe, but I also know for myself that I have no interest in starting a male-only group, in fact, they tend to make me uncomfortable. Any way you look at it, it’s not an easy population to form into a cohesive group.

  2. Near the beginning of my healing journey, I tried to set up a local support group because there weren’t any within 50 miles. I used different angles to attract people, but no one was interested. I finally went online to and joined groups there. I think that when dealing with past abuse issues, it’s easier to be a part of a support group if there is anonymity.

  3. The issue with the London-based ad hoc group for male survivors is that at least one of the co-founders now has a job at a survivors’ charity so just by design, group activities for that person have moved under the official umbrella. This charity has followed Grace’s example of having a group with an end date of three months, but attendance is required weekly with proper notice of cancellation otherwise they kick you out – a fair enough rule as it’s a charity that has to fight for government funding and can’t afford the kind of time-wasting antics that Timothy has encountered.

    With the group he originally started, the room is bought and paid for every month but I was told by the building’s staff last time I went that it’s only ever one to two people per month. If the founders get tired and move on and leave nothing in place for anyone that wants to keep it going, there’s only so long you can spend 2-3 hours of your time in the evening on something that wastes your time before you just head to the internet as I did. I’m more annoyed that the website is still up, and this group is still listed as if it’s a rolling concern. As with much of my therapy I was lucky it was there at the time and I got best use out of it, but after a two month layoff due to illness and travelling, came back in Spring to find the group dead and gone – this was nearly four years on from its heyday.

    As far as I’m concerned Tim, if you’re renting the space where your group meets, just stipulate a fee for the first meeting they attend, and the people that don’t want to pay, won’t come – it will save you time though, as well as cover the expenses for the no-shows. I can’t follow up Grace’s excellent advice with anything else.

  4. Mike – I’m sorry I’m just now seeing your response to my comment. I totally understand what you’re saying about the different genders. The reason why I started an all women’s group is because my abuser was a male. I felt the most safe with women. However, now that I have been on my healing journey for several years, I am finding that I would like to facilitate (possibly with another male) a mixed gender group. I do think an all male group is better facilitated by male facilitators but, as in your case, that may not be the best for all males so I guess we could have two female facilitators for an all male participant group. I see room for lots of variety here that I had not thought of before. Our curriculum would adapt to all of the scenarios as well. Thanks for that insight, Mike. To answer your question, I’m not sure if an all male group is the answer for Timothy. It seems that it would depend on a couple of different things; his own experience and what is his purpose for starting a group. It’s so important to have a clear vision when you step into something like this. There is so much more I could share but it would be a lot to type. I would not mind if he wants to contact me through the REAL Grace website at all –

    Mike, is there a way to be emailed when comments are posted here? Comicbookguys comment showed up in my google reader feed, just today (9/23) and that is when I saw your comment.

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