Running group sessions for people who have a long term illness or mental health conditions is always going to be a tricky balancing act. The balance between an individuals need to express their issues and talk about what they are going through as opposed to the needs of the group who might be affected by what that person says. Sometimes it can be particularly tricky where one person is very vulnerable and sensitive and another is expressive and vocal. To allow the former to continue risks real harm to the first in that their mood or condition can be disrupted.
That is why we need volunteers in the group, not just the odd one but plenty so there is a good ratio. People can often feel that just being a volunteer to sit in the group and take part is not really volunteering but it is in fact a vital part of the sessions. We need those people in the group to help both ends of the spectrum, the vocal and the withdrawn.
The easiest part of the role is modelling. Showing how to be positive and have a go, interact with the group socially, how to behave around people and what is appropriate or not. It is surprising how many people struggle in this kind of situation either through their own isolation or through their medical condition. Then there is the part of the role where you might be sat alongside a very quiet or nervous person and the role becomes one of encouraging and supporting, using your judgement to decide if that person needs encouragement to engage or if just being with them and letting them know you are there if they need you. I have sat through an entire session next to a person and barely spoken with them other that the odd word and they have left thanking us for our support and how much better they feel. It takes weeks sometimes for people to interact more.
It might be that you are working alongside a more vocal individual. In this case it may be that rather than pronouncing their problems to the whole group, these individuals need channeling and engaging one to one at a lower volume that is for conversation between people sat next to each other. Using your judgement to decide if that person should be withdrawn from the group for a time to talk privately. S2C always tries to have a more senior volunteer on hand if it is felt the individual needs more support they can go to another area to talk privately and try and resolve issues or just talk about them confidentially.
What we want to avoid is the situation where one individual, who clearly needs support, very loudly and innocently is dominating a group by exploring their issues with the whole group. At times this is inappropriate and it also impacts on other members of the group. It is all part of the group management to best achieve what is needed for everyone. Some will be there so they can quietly be part of the group and some will be there because they need to talk to somebody about their situation. Our role is to ensure both have what they need to improve their wellbeing.
If you would like to volunteer with S2C then get in touch. We are looking at developing new sessions and improving our existing ones as well as developing better structure for the charity, This means we need all sorts of volunteers from artists, group supporters, admin, a treasurer, fundraisers, event helpers, exhibition helpers and more.