A guide to setting up and running a social anxiety support group
(Adapted article from Nick – based on 11 successful years running a Bristol based support group)
- What a support group is
- What it should probably not be
- Where to run it
- Letting people know about it
- How people contact you
- Funding and finances
- Social events
- Group roles
- Attendees with other MH issues
- Signposting information
- Safety considerations
- Other considerations
- Example session plan
- Example rules to be read out at the start of a session
- Example reminders to be read out at the end of a session
People with social anxiety are often terrified of group situations. Starting a social anxiety support group might seem like an idea that is immediately doomed to failure. However, our experience has been that these groups can be well attended and highly beneficial to people with social anxiety.
Although people with social anxiety can be fearful of meeting people and speaking in front of others they usually feel a strong desire (and need) to make friends, socialise and work through their fears. A support group can provide a gentle much needed steppingstone that enables them to start overcoming their fears when doing that in the rest of the world is too difficult.
The following guide contains information that you might want to consider when starting your own social anxiety support group. The guidelines are based on the model used in the Bristol group developed between 2002 and 2013. Starting a support group may seem like a daunting task at first, especially if you still experience some social anxiety, but it can also be a very rewarding and beneficial step. We recommend having more than one person involved to share out the responsibilities and for moral support.
Support groups can be many things and running one can be as simple as some people who already know each other meeting up regularly in a cafe to chat about their social anxiety. A simple group like this can be a good way to start. From there, you and possibly some of the founding members might end up wishing to open it up to the public to reach more people. When doing this there is more that you may wish to consider as detailed below. First, here are some defining features that support groups often have in common:
- Members are there for the same reason (and all have social anxiety)
- A set of rules that facilitate a safe and supportive space
- The sharing of struggles, successes and coping strategies
- Giving comfort, hope and encouragement
- A sense of community and belonging
They take many different forms including being:
- Open (anyone joins at any time) or closed (run with the same people, usually for a set period before repeating with new people)
- Drop-in (turn up at any time within a set time period) or attend-on-time (members should arrive on time).
- Facilitated or unfacilitated
- Structured (there’s a session plan) or unstructured (people mingle amongst themselves)
- Professional (e.g. run by a trained therapist) or peer-led (i.e. run by someone with social anxiety without professional training)
- Run on a regular or ad hoc basis
- Online or in-person
Our experience has been that a 2 hour, in-person, open, attend-on-time (but ok if you’re late), facilitated, structured group that is run on a weekly basis and led by a peer or professional with personal experience of social anxiety, but who has ideally already made some progress, can be successful. Having two facilitators (lead and assistant) works well for safety and support reasons. However, other formats may also prove beneficial. We recommend that the group is only open to people age 18 years and over.
Before explaining more of the details of setting up and running these groups, it is important to consider what they probably should not be. The following may be harmful or problematic when a social anxiety support group is centred around them:
- A Lecture : People often learn many useful things from support groups, and it is perfectly acceptable for members or facilitators to offer to share their useful knowledge and experiences. A member or facilitator may even give a talk to the rest of the group on what they have personally found helpful. However, care should be taken to make sure that there is mutual sharing and that one person’s views are not being imposed on the group while other people’s views are always being invalidated. Everyone’s experience of social anxiety is different and what works for one may not work for all
- Social Skills Training : People with social anxiety often feel inadequate and unacceptable to other people. This can often drive them to try and improve their social skills to appear more acceptable, entertaining or likeable. However, trying to “perfect” socialising techniques rarely leads to a resolution of difficulties. More typically people seem to benefit from discovering that it is ok to be imperfect, look anxious, or sometimes make mistakes. This is not to say that learning some social skills, such as how to be assertive, asking open questions, listening skills etc are not beneficial for people with social anxiety. It is rather that “changing ourselves” should not be the main “focus” of a social anxiety support group. You will find that people will naturally improve their social functioning through the support group gradually helping them reduce their anxiety and increase their exposure to social situations.
- Group Therapy : Social anxiety support groups should not advertise themselves as any kind of “Group therapy”. The term should be reserved for professionally led therapy groups, led by a therapist with appropriate qualifications. A (non-therapy) support group facilitator may employ some basic therapeutic skills, such as helpful listening skills or facilitating role plays, but they should not try and be the group’s therapist nor feel responsible for making everyone recover. Creating a safe and supportive environment where people can open up about their difficulties can be very therapeutic even without a qualified therapist. The main points to take from this are that the group leader or facilitator should not pose as a therapist when they do not have appropriate training, and a support group should not pose as a therapy group when it is not one.
- Drinking Sessions : People with social anxiety often rely on alcohol or drugs to cope socially. This usually ends up having a negative impact on other areas of their life. Moving forward is usually about reducing dependence on these substances. Bear in mind that some people attending might need help with alcohol/drug addiction and have worked hard to stay away from these substances. A pub is therefore not the best venue for a social anxiety support group. Alcohol also inhibits the emotional learning that is necessary to overcome social anxiety. Facing fears while under the influence is usually not effective especially in the context of a facilitated support group . This does not mean that an occasional social outside of the sessions that does involve alcohol should never be allowed as socialising with alcohol is a normal part of life for many people.
- Dating : Although many people with social anxiety will be single and want a relationship, promoting a culture where people are attending the group to primarily meet partners or learn dating skills can lead to less than helpful or even harmful experiences. Consider the following:
- It moves the group away from discussing other aspects of social anxiety. For example, how it affects work, education or family life.
- It is not uncommon for people attending to have had negative past experiences of sexual or domestic abuse and too much focus on dating or partners such a group may not feel safe to them.
- A failed relationship with another group member will usually lead to one or both individuals feeling unable to attend and access support anymore.
- The group may end up lacking diversity. For example, it could end up consisting only of single men.
- It can attract people who are looking to prey on vulnerable people.
- The sharing and teaching of seduction or “pick-up” techniques should definitely be avoided as these can often be manipulative and abusive in their nature leading to psychological harm. This can also set people on an unhelpful or unhealthy path when they are looking for guidance on how to overcome their social anxiety.
This is not to say that group members should be banned from dating each other and dating should never be discussed – it definitely should be discussed.
A central location within a highly populated area such as a large town or city is best in order to attract a sufficient number of people. Be aware that such venues can often be expensive or booked up so you may have to consider other options. However, ask around at local voluntary sector or mental health organisations as they may have suitable rooms they are willing to offer at a reduced rate or even for free. It is possible you will have to make some location compromises depending on what is available.
So likely possibilities include:
- Venues used by community, charity, church or volunteer centres
- Hospitality venues (though we recommend this is a private function room with no alcohol during the group meeting time)
- University, library, school or college facilites
- Try typing room hire into google e.g. “room hire bristol”
The following features are beneficial:
- Quiet and confidential.
- Good public transport links (train station, bus stops) and parking.
- Accessible building & facilities (e.g. for wheelchairs).
- A room large enough for the group, ideally including breaking out into smaller groups or pairs.
- Toilets and a kitchen.
- Tables and chairs (chairs are essential, tables are helpful if e.g. you want to play board games).
- Somewhere suitable nearby to socialise after sessions (beneficial but not essential).
- Soft lighting and a relaxing setting is helpful.
- Available for 3 hours (for a 2 hour session – so time for set up, refreshments, lock up )
- Weekday evenings (not Friday) or weekend daytimes seem to work best.
- For a formal sustainable organised group a website is probably a must. If other organisations are going to consider referring clients they will need to be reassured there is a structure and set of ground rules for membership and meetings.
- A service like meetup.com is an alternative but again – a clear explanation of group ground rules will be important to reassure both members and referring agencies.
- Use popular social media sites (Facebook, Social Anxiety Forums, YouTube etc.).
- Inform your local Mind charity and other local mental health charities. They will have many enquiries from people looking for support.
- Consider listing your group with SAUK, Social Anxiety Alliance UK, Anxiety UK
- Tell your local “NHS Talking Therapy” service (or other primary care psychological therapies/mental health service in Scotland & Wales) funded by the NHS. Let them know you exist. They will be encountering and supporting hundreds of people with social anxiety every year and may be willing to let their referrals know you exist.
- Let local college/university support services know.
- Letting local GP surgeries know is a good idea too.
Referral criteria: It can be important to specify exactly who the group is for, such as it being only open to people with social anxiety disorder/social phobia. We generally recommend making social anxiety groups social anxiety specific as allowing others – for instance those that have more general anxiety issues, or who “struggle socially” for other reasons – into predominantly SA groups doesn’t always work well. Those with social anxiety generally feel safest – and most empowered to “push boundaries and grow” when with others with the same condition. That’s not to say other mild MH condition should be excluded – many of us with SA have other stuff going on – but having SA should usually be the key criteria. If you are receiving referrals from external organisations you will need to be clear that those with severe or complex mental illness or very challenging behaviour are not suitable for your group given that the group is not run by mental health professionals (if that is the case).
Leaflets: Having a leaflet can be helpful. We suggest having one in PDF format that can be emailed or downloaded from your website. It can then be printed off by people themselves rather than paying to have them printed. It is difficult and expensive for a group organiser to keep re-printing paper leaflets, and removing out-of-date copies from circulation when things change is usually impossible.
Having an email address is a minimum. It is best not to use your personal email address, especially if you may eventually want to share the responsibility of responding to enquiries with others. Generally, it is best to put all need-to-know information on your website and let people know they can just turn up when they feel able (unless the format of your group does not allow this). Allowing people to attend without having to get in touch first reduces your administration time and removes an anxiety provoking barrier to them attending.
Some groups embed a Google calendar (or similar) into their website so they can easily give up-to-date information on when sessions are happening. If you do not mind the extra work, then having a dedicated group mobile or skype number with voicemail can give an option for those who do wish to get in touch first but do not have internet access.
Weekly meetings are ideal as it creates the best sense of cohesion, friendship, consistency and support but fortnightly or monthly meetings are possible (e.g. every first Thursday of the month). Whatever the frequency it needs to be made explicit on the group website and in its leaflets etc. What members need most of all is consistency as it takes a lot of inner resolve to conquer nerves – meetings changes will just put people off.
Through being thrifty and the group being well attended, we found that we could run the Bristol group almost entirely from non-compulsory donations of £2 per member per session. However, we did sometimes obtain a grant to help cover costs when funds were low and we were lucky with how cheap our particular venue was. Even a weekly room hire of £40 woudl equate to approximately £2000 a year. In London costs might be much higher. Room hire will likely be your biggest cost so try and keep this low – please see the section on using other charities facilities where possible.
- Venue/room Hire
- Website (domain and hosting) – check if any of your members have skills in this area
- Refreshments (tea, coffee, biscuits)
- Insurance (see insurance section futher below)
- Criminal Records Checks (especially coordinators, facilitators and treasurers)
- Training (see training section further below)
- Volunteer Expenses (if applicable)
- Travel costs for training or to visit other groups
- Skype Number or a Mobile dedicated to the group (if required)
- Any equipment needed for the room and sessions (e.g. lamps, pens, paper, boardgames)
- Donations from members each session. £2 to £5 suggested. Keeping this non-compulsory or low means that you are not excluding anyone on a very tight budget.
- Grants and grant finder services. Check with libraries, local councils, centres for voluntary service, charity support organisations or search online (e.g. “grant finder bristol”, “grassroots funding bristol”, “mental health grants bristol”, “small grants bristol”, “community funds bristol”, etc.)
- Ask local mental health charities for support (e.g. Mind or Re-think)
- Businesses may also offer grants or sponsorship (e.g. Tesco has a scheme)
- Fundraising events (e.g. a sponsored marathon or hill/mountain climb.)
Bank Accounts: If your group chooses to register as a formal “not-for-profit organisation” some banks can offer free banking. It is strongly advisable that these accounts have two or more signatories for withdrawals and this may be a requirement of both the bank and anyone funding you. You may wish to keep some petty cash for small regular outgoing expenses and these can be topped up from donations. It is advisable to keep records and receipts for all trnasactions and this may also be a requirement of your funder. Even if you are self-funding, keeping records and receipts means you can prove how much running the group costs should you ever need funding in the future.
Support group facilitation training is scarce. The following are some options that you may like to consider:
- Travelling to an established social anxiety support group session somewhere else – to gain some ideas for your own group. Alternatively arrange a call/skype/zoom with one of their facilitators.
- Asking if you can attend local support groups for other mental health problems in your area to see how they are run. Perhaps they will let you join in with any training they do (Mind, Rethink etc) and let you have an informal chat with an experienced facilitator.
- Attend adult education introductory counselling skills courses to gain helpful listening skills.
- Mental Health First Aid and Mental Health Awareness courses -and First Aid training (for physical injuries)
- ASIST (Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training)
- Volunteer with a mental health organisation to gain experience.
Socials arranged outside of sessions are more important for social anxiety groups than they are for most other groups for obvious reasons. They bridge the gap between the safety of the sessions and rest of the social world and therefore provide an important steppingstone.
Members may arrange their own socials between them and this can be encouraged during sessions. You can also ask if any of the members want to volunteer to be the group’s social secretary to arrange e.g. a monthly social event for the members. This provides another way for a member to build up their confidence and life experience. A Christmas social open to all members can be particularly important as some members may be completely alone over the Christmas holidays and it can be a particularly difficult time for them.
You may want to remind members to apply the usual precautions when meeting up at socials – especially with people they may not know. Generally, people attending a social anxiety group will be very nice and safe to be around, but this can easily provide a false sense of security.
As well as a social secretary, you may like to offer other voluntary roles to your group members. This will give you some support and can create opportunities for people to build up confidence and gain helpful experiences. It can mean a way for members to get a reference for a job or course that can really help them move their life forward. It can also foster a sense of community and caring about the group’s success by allowing members to have a greater sense of ownership. Here are some options:
- Group Coordinator (oversees the running of the groups, if not yourself)
- Facilitator (guides the group through the session)
- Assistant Facilitator (helps support the main facilitator e.g. setting up the room, helping with “breakout groups” or role play
- Treasurer (manages financial records, pays in donations, issues expenses, paying bills etc.)
- Website administrator (creates or manages the website)
- Administrator (various tasks but including replying to any enquiries)
- Fundraiser (researches funding sources, makes applications or arranges fund raising events)
- Liaison Officer (connects with other organisations to tell them about the group and form relationships with them)
- Social Secretary (arranges and coordinates social events outside of sessions)
Criminal records checks are recommended for these roles, especially coordinators, facilitators and treasurers.
It can be helpful to have some basic knowledge on other mental health problems in case you think that someone attending needs a different form of support – instead of help with social anxiety. Please note : unless you are a mental health professional, you are not in a position to make a diagnosis. Therefore, it is best to point people towards their GP or a local mental health service to check what support is best for them. Also be aware that it is not uncommon for people to have social anxiety disorder and another mental health problem at the same time. These are some of the mental health problems that have similarities to social anxiety:
- Depression: May lead to social isolation and thinking people do not want them around but they feel more depressed, hopeless and unwanted than socially anxious.
- Body Dysmorphic Disorder: Like social anxiety but the self-consciousness is about the physical body rather than their behaviour or personality.
- Panic Disorder: Can lead to not going out and avoiding places with a lot of people, but they fear dying, losing control or going mad rather than being judged by people.
- Generalised Anxiety Disorder : Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) causes feelings of anxiety or excessive worry over everyday events or the future, both in and out of social settings
- Post-traumatic Stress Disorder: Follows a significant traumatic experience and can often result in difficulties with trust and fears of people harming or abusing them.
- Autism Spectrum Disorders: People with autism can have trouble reading social cues and often fear people reacting to them in a negative way and not understanding why.
- Borderline Personality Disorder: Often involves intense fears of rejection/abandonment, distrust of people and struggling to function in relationships. See https://www.mind.org.uk/media/7568/personality-disorders-2020-downloadable-pdf-version.pdf, but be aware of the stigma people can feel in relation to certain personality disorder labels.
- Selective Mutism : Those with Selective Mutism remain “stuck” in a partially nonverbal state that limits their ability to make friends, excel at school, and achieve their goals. More tham just difficulty with speaking, it is an inability to speak in certain social situation see – https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/conditions/selective-mutism
- Avoidant Personality Disorder: Some experts consider this a more severe form of social anxiety disorder and do not necessarily see it as a distinct problem. However, avoidant personality typically involves patterns of avoidance in most or all areas of life, social anxiety may only involve avoidance in more specific situations.
To avoid people attending when they do not need support with social anxiety, you might find it beneficial to have some information on your website about other mental health problems that have similarities to social anxiety. This will help people go directly to sources of support that are more suited to them.
Another option is to have a link to a screening questionnaire such as the Social Phobia Inventory (SPIN) test. Ranges are indicated by the total score: 20-30 suggests mild social anxiety, 31-40 suggests moderate social anxiety, 41 or above suggests severe social anxiety. You can complete the online test here : Social Anxiety “SPIN” test. This will help people work out if social anxiety might be a problem they experience, although note that a positive score on the questionnaire is not conclusive and a diagnosis cannot be made from this alone.
Members might sometimes come to you for further support with other mental health problems they are having. Here are some signposting options you might want to have the details of:
- Social anxiety specfic information resources within the SAAUK website including sections on books, courses/workshops, support groups, what the NHS offers.
- Two particularly useful books resources – “Overcoming Social Anxiety” book by Gillian Butler and the FREE pdf https://martinantony.com/wp-content/uploads/10-Simple-Solutions-to-Shyness.pdf.
- The main UK based Social Anxiety Discussion Board is at www.social-anxiety-community.org. Please note SAUK, and its discussion board, are a separate and external organisation. SAAUK (the charity) cannot be held responsible for any of the posts or content.
- Anxiety UK offer a wide range on information on a range of anxiety and phobias : see https://www.anxietyuk.org.uk/
- Other MH conditions – here are three good options:
- An excellent series of self help guides at https://web.ntw.nhs.uk/selfhelp/
- General links to MH topics at https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/
- Also see the following link to an excellent series of articles and book recommendations on a whole variety of MH Issues – including links to the “overcoming” series of books. The “overcoming” series are generally good options and are usually written by leading experts in the subject area, see https://overcoming.co.uk/14/Help-for-Mental-Health.
- MIND – Your local Mind charity. They will usually be able to offer a more comprehensive sign-posting service, see https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/local-minds/.
- Your local NHS Talking Therapy service (or primary care mental health) service. They offer NHS support for common mental health problems such as anxiety and depression, including social anxiety, see www.nhs.uk/service-search/mental-health/find-an-nhs-talking-therapies-service.
- Crisis service numbers such as the Samaritans, see https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/guides-to-support-and-services/crisis-services/getting-help-in-a-crisis/.
- Self-injury and self-harm support services, see https://www.selfinjurysupport.org.uk/ (women and girls only), and https://www.harmless.org.uk/.
- Alcohol and drug services such Alcoholics Anonymous (https://www.alcoholics-anonymous.org.uk/AA-Meetings/Find-a-Meeting/), Smart Recovery (https://smartrecovery.org.uk/), and Al-Anon (https://www.al-anonuk.org.uk/)
- Domestic abuse services, see https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/family/gender-violence/domestic-violence-and-abuse-getting-help/. The book “The abuse of men by women” by Ann Silvers is a good self-help option for men if no suitable local services exist.
- Bereavement counselling services, such as Cruse Bereavement Care, see https://www.cruse.org.uk/get-support.
- Other general mental health or problem specific support groups in your area.
Here are a few things you might like to consider to keep you and your group members safe.
- Avoid slip, trip and fall hazards like, like trailing cables or things left in walkways.
- Be careful to avoid injury to yourself or others when heavy or awkward items need moving or lifting. Do not ask members to do anything that might put them at risk.
- Know where the fire exits are and the meeting point is. Note where fire alarms and extinguishers are. Inform members and facilitators. Make sure there is a clear path to exits.
- Know where the first aid kit is or bring one with you. It is a good idea to have someone present who is first aid trained.
- Make sure you have phone reception in the venue or access to a landline so the emergency services can be called if necessary.
- Obtain emergency numbers for your venue in case there is a problem with it, e.g. a water leak or power failure.
- Dial 999 if someone has been seriously injured, or there is a fire or a crime is in progress. The non-emergency number for the police is 101 and people can call 111 for a non-emergency health concern.
- Call the police if a crime has been committed or you have serious concerns, e.g. theft, assault, disclosure of intent to harm others, or carrying a dangerous weapon.
Support Group Specific:
It is rare to have to deal with serious risks while running a support group, but it is best to be prepared. Here are some support group specific precautions to keep in mind.
- Many people with mental health problems have suicidal thoughts and most will not actually act on them. However, a disclosure of suicidal thoughts should always be taken seriously and dealt with compassionately. Attending an ASIST (Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training) course can help with your confidence in this area. The charity Rethink offers this guide as well: https://www.rethink.org/advice-and-information/carers-hub/suicidal-thoughts-how-to-support-someone/
- Encourage someone to see their GP if they disclose that they are having suicidal thoughts or are self-harming. Offer the details of a crisis line such as the Samaritans (116 123) or another crisis service.
- Avoid putting yourself, members or volunteers in a position where they will be left alone one on one with another member, especially in an isolated location. If a member wants to speak to you confidentially, then let someone know this is happening and where you are. Do not agree to put yourself in a position that you feel unsafe or uncomfortable in.
- Avoid disclosing personal details such as where you live, work or are going to be at certain times.
- Avoid “lone working”. Working as a pair with second facilitator/volunteer is recommended for safety and support.
- Leave together with another volunteer after locking up, especially if it is dark or in a less frequented area.
- Make sure are aware of appropriate standards of ethical conduct. e.g.
- Also consider having an arrangement (paid or voluntary) with a trained therapist, mental health professional or more experienced support group facilitator where you have regular sessions to discuss any difficulties you are experiencing with supporting the members. This will give you someone to go to if you feel out of your depth and will help you provide a more beneficial service.
Criminal Records Checks: It is a good idea to complete enhanced criminal records checks for all facilitators, and people who are in a trusted position for the group and its finances. Enhanced DBS (criminal records) checks do not cost much and will help safeguard the group’s members, its finances and its reputation against abuse and fraud. SAAUK are hoping to be able to facilitate these checks though if your group is formal community group, charity or CIC checks can often be done through an umbrella organisation. More information on the process can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/disclosure-application-process-for-volunteers/disclosure-application-process-for-volunteers
Insurance: Although there is a very low chance of needing to make a claim, professional indemnity and public liability insurance can give you peace of mind. Additionally, insurance may be required as part of a venue hire agreement.
Records: It is advisable to keep records of all finances, such as donations and outgoing costs including any volunteer expenses. This will help you know if you need to do fundraising, make grant applications or if you can spend more developing the group. You may find it helpful to keep data on how many people attend each session, how many sessions you run and anonymous feedback on how people find the experience of the group. This may also be helpful as “proof of benefit” for fundraising, referrals or grant application purposes.
Data Protection (GDPR): All organisations have to comply with data protection laws that protect people’s personal information and what can be done with it. Consider carefully what information you collect on group members and how it is stored and used. Keep it to a minimum, confidential, secure, organised and gain consent before passing it on or using it in any way that the person is not expecting. The following is a guide for voluntary groups and GDPR data protection laws. https://www.resourcecentre.org.uk/information/data-protection-for-community-groups/
You may wish to use the following session structure which has worked well in the past at the Bristol support group. The general aim is to create a safe, structured environment where people have multiple varied opportunities to open up and face their fears but are not pressured to do so (see starred items).
SETTING UP: Arrive and set-up the venue at least 30 minutes before the sessions starts (tables, chairs, refreshments, lighting, signage etc.).
LOOKING OUT FOR NEW MEMBERS: Notice any new members and personally welcome them before the session starts i.e. while other people are mingling and settling. Make a little small talk with them, such as asking if they have come far to get there, if they found the venue ok, and asking if they have any questions. Let them know where toilets and refreshments are. If you have it, give them some information such as the group rules, information on social anxiety and how to get the most out of the group.
- Announce that the session is starting.
- Tell people about fire exits and fire procedures and any other need-to-know information.
- Ask for a volunteer to read out the group rules to everyone (see below). Explain that it is an opportunity to build up confidence with speaking in front of others.
- Explain the opening round to everyone and that it consists of saying:
- literally one word about how you feel,
- or a little more about why you feel that way or how your week has been,
- or just saying ‘pass’ (or signalling it) if you feel unable to say more.
- Give everyone a small piece of paper and a pen and get them to write their name down, fold it up and put it in a bag or bowl. Explain that this allows the opening round to be done in a random order.
- Ask for a volunteer to draw and read names at random to give people their chance to speak.
- Save the names on paper for later.
- Explain what “pairs” is – a gentle 10 minute opportunity to:
- Talk about your social anxiety
- Talk about your week
- Get to know someone else in the group better
- Explain that the names on paper are used to pair people off at random.
- Ask (see * below) for a volunteer to randomly draw and read names to pair people off.
- Let people know, for all activities, they can pass on the activity if they wish
- Ask people to find a space in the room in their pair to talk for 10 minutes
- Pair up with someone yourself if there is an odd number.
- Gather everyone back as a whole group
- Explain that during this part of the group some announcements are given.
- State anything you need to announce, such as session rearrangements or cancellations over the next few weeks.
- Ask (see * below) if anyone else has any announcements, such as social activities they are arranging or are interested in doing. Remind people to take the usual safety precautions when meeting up with people they do not know, such as making sure there are other people around. Remember that group members might be very inexperienced with socialising.
- This section of the session can be used for one or more of various activities. Some helpful options have been:
- Sharing – Done as a whole group, and with fair warning there is no need to take part, some people volunteer to share about their struggles or successes. It is helpful if the facilitator shares something if no one immediately wants to contribute. Once one person has shared, more people are usually willing to also share. These sessions are particularly helpful for new members even if they do not contribute.
- Topic discussion – Using the list of names made earlier, split people into small groups of 3-6. These smaller groups discuss some open questions around a topic (e.g. something related to social anxiety). Avoid controversial (politics, religion) or overly intellectual topics.
- Public speaking – Give people the opportunity to stand up and talk about something in front of the group for e.g. 5 minutes. Encourage the group to give teh speaker an applause – both as they go up and when they finish. Speakers can ask for feedback if they wish to. Feedback should be positive, constructive and include elements of what they did well.
- Boardgames – Playing board games in small groups. This can be beneficial in various ways regarding building social confidence.
- A talk – Invite a member, facilitator, or guest speaker to give a talk on a subject or service that might be interesting to the members. Make sure the subject matter is appropriate beforehand.
- Role Plays – Some people want to work through specific role play situations – e.g. asking a boss for a rise, being assertive in saying no, small talk at a party. A list of role play situations can be provided if no specific role plays come to mind. Role plays are best done in smaller breakout groups. Make sure everyone partcipating is comfortable to play a role and free to back out if they need. It helps if roles are swapped so everyone who is willing gets a chance to play each role.
- Breakout Groups – If numbers are large – or its feel appropriate – try some smaller breakout groups. Any of the topics in the list can be done within smaller breakout groups
- Explain the closing round is similar to the opening around and that it consists of saying…
- Literally one word about how you feel,
- or a little more about how you found the session,
- or just saying ‘pass’ or signalling it.
- Make sure everyone’s name is in the bowl/bag.
- Ask (see * below) for a volunteer to draw names at random to give people their chance to speak
- Some groups continue socialising after the session at a public venue such as a café. If this is the case then let everyone know that this happens, where it is and that everyone is welcome. It might be helpful for people to gather with a person who is definitely going and then to go there together.
- Ask (see * below) for a volunteer to read out the after-session reminders (see below).
- Thank everyone for coming and announce the end of the session. Let people know they can speak to you while you pack up if they have any questions or concerns.
PACKING UP: Allow 30 minutes to pack up and to speak to members who have questions. This is also a good opportunity for members to mingle amongst themselves.
* Where volunteers are asked to lead in various tasks, leave a sufficient pause/silence to allow anyone willing to build up the courage to come forward. If volunteers are not forthcoming, you may want to remind people that it is a good opportunity to overcome fears of speaking in front of other people in a setting where it is safe and people will understand if you get anxious or do not do it perfectly. Complete the tasks yourself if no one volunteers.
- Please treat our venue with care and respect.
- Please show sensitivity towards other’s personal difficulties.
- Respect that everyone’s experience of social anxiety and mental health problems is different.
- Disruptive, discriminatory, or abusive behaviour will not be tolerated.
- Everyone must be given the space to contribute if they wish to.
- Everyone has the right to pass on any activity.
- Do not pressure people to speak or disclose personal information.
- Keep personal information shared within the group confidential.
- Do not reveal who attends the group to others.
- If you have any questions or concerns then please raise them with a facilitator.
Remember that it can take a lot of courage to attend the group and contribute during sessions. Please make this a safe and welcoming space where we can explore our difficulties, support each other, learn and progress.
- Remember to keep any personal information shared within the group confidential and do not reveal who attends.
- If, for a good reason, you need share something that was discussed within the group, then do not give away any identifying information about group members.
- If you have any concerns about a member or something that happened during the session, then please speak to a facilitator.
- After attending the group, you may feel anxious and worried about how you acted and what other members thought of you. This is a common part of the experience of social anxiety and we encourage you to join us again if you feel this way.
- Remember that we are all here for the same reason, have similar struggles and the group is here to help and support you.
- A donation for the session would be greatly appreciated. You do not have to donate, but please remember that donations help us cover basic running costs such as room hire and website costs and they keep this group active. Please put your donations in the collection pot by the door.