Working in Groups Copy

As a peer support specialist, you are likely to do some of your client mentoring in a group setting, rather than in a one-to-one interaction. The amount of time that you spend in group work will depend upon the setting in which you are working and the specific requirements of your job description. It is important for peer support specialists to understand the various types of groups, how groups work and skills required for effective group facilitation.

Types of Groups

Within the behavioral health setting, there are three types of groups focused on clients:

  • support groups
  • educational groups
  • therapy groups.

Peer support specialists may facilitate or have a role in conducting support groups or educational groups, but they are not trained or credentialed to conduct therapy groups. As a peer support specialist, you may be asked to attend therapy groups to help manage possibly disruptive clients or perform other support tasks, but you will not have responsibility for conducting the group or providing therapy. Therapy groups are conducted by professionals with advanced degrees and clinical training.

Support Groups

A support group is a group of people with a common life issue or concern who meet regularly with one another to share resources, encourage one another and help individual members to achieve their identified goals. Many support groups are peer-led, either by identified peer support specialists or by group members themselves. Support groups are primarily focused on needs, feelings or events.[i]

There are three common models for structuring a peer support group:

Curriculum-Based – A curriculum-based peer support group is highly structured. It includes a list of planned topics to discuss over time, which may be in a pre-determined order. Written materials (and sometimes homework) may be included in the curriculum. Discussion focuses on relating each topic to the group members’ recovery.[ii]

Curriculum-based groups may be tied to a specific evidence-based practice. The group experience may be the entire intervention or there may be other interventions that are part of the program. When implementing an evidence-based practice, it is important to follow curriculum instructions exactly. This is known as keeping fidelity with the model. Fidelity to the evidence-based process helps to ensure positive client outcomes.

Topic-Focused – A topic-focused peer support group can be structured around a single topic related to recovery or can be organized around topics selected by members of the group. In this type of group, the facilitator can guide discussion and ask questions of group members or written materials, videos or a group member’s story can be used as a catalyst for discussion.

Open-Forum – An open forum group is the least structured type of group. In this approach, participants are invited to share their needs, feelings and thoughts for discussion with the group. This type of group requires a highly skilled facilitator in order to make certain that all members’ needs are met.

Each type of support group will have its own expectations and ground rules based on the context. For some groups, particularly those that are curriculum-based, there may be an expectation of attendance and joining the group may be limited to certain times. In topic-focused and open-forum groups, attendance may not be mandatory, since the content is not intended to build upon itself session-to-session. In a support group, your role as a peer support specialist is closer to facilitation than leadership. This is particularly true in open-forum type groups.

Education Groups

Education groups are focused on presenting information and developing skills, rather than on processing feelings and sharing resources. Education groups generally use either a topic focused or curriculum-based format. This type of group is frequently led by peer support specialists in the behavioral health setting. Open forum groups are not usually used for education groups, since the content is difficult to predict and control.

In education groups it is important to have an idea of the knowledge or skill level of each of the members of the group prior to the initial meeting. In some cases, the fact that a client has enrolled in a particular group shows their own sense that the group will teach them a skill that they need. But not all clients will self-select into an education group. Some are referred and some will be automatically enrolled as part of a structured treatment program.

In education groups where skills practice is involved, there may be more than one leader or teacher, depending upon the skill being taught. Sometimes, education groups also involve practice of new skills outside the group, which may or may not be directly observed by the peer support specialist.


Module 5 Activity: What Type of Group?     

Instructions: Click the box below to complete the Module 5 Activity: What Type of Group?