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The Insider (a facilitator's experience of a support group)

By Alex (ADAVIC Volunteer)

Written in 2001

Ever wanted to know what it is like to be the Facilitator of an Anxiety Group? Ever thought it looked easy or that you would like to give it a go? Or, have you thought there’s no way that you could ever run a group session? Read on to get an insider’s view of what it’s like being a Group Facilitator…

When I walked into the Kew Senior Citizens Centre for the first time, I had no idea what to expect. This was my first day as a Facilitator and I was terrified. What would I say, how would I act and would I remember anything from my university training? The saying “Sink or Swim” applied directly here - I was thrown into the deep end and had to swim very hard to stay afloat. I was dog paddling like mad in my first group and could have used a pair of floaties! But I survived and lived to tell the tale and in fact after a few weeks, I began enjoying the groups instead of turning up to each one highly anxious myself!

Having never suffered from an anxiety disorder, I thought this may have been a hindrance and that members of the group would say, “What do you know anyway, you have no idea how we’re feeling!” Yet Anna reassured me that this would not be a problem and that being a sympathetic listener and empathizer was much more important than being a sufferer. I soon found this to be true.

It is true that anxiety is a universal human emotion that everyone experiences in varying degrees throughout their daily lives, yet for some people their anxiety can be so extreme it literally destroys their lives. For me, a theme which continually emerged throughout the support groups, was the attitude one had towards their disorder. Some members saw their experiences with anxiety as a learning tool, a way to find out more about themselves and their past, and their reactions to various conflicts. Others however felt that their anxiety was something they could never overcome and that it would trouble them all their lives. It was this latter type of attitude that frustrated myself and other group members as the belief seemed so ingrained as to be impossible to alter. If there’s one thing psychology and my experience with this group has taught me, it’s that attitudes are based on beliefs and beliefs CAN be changed - changing your beliefs, changes your behaviour! Try it and see!!

In the nine months that I was a facilitator I learnt an incredible lot. The people who are brave enough to come along to these groups and share their experiences taught me a great deal, not just about anxiety groups but also about the different ways people cope and their attitudes towards their experiences. Every group was different – some days we couldn’t stop talking and 3.30pm came around so fast, but on other days it was a battle to get discussions started. Never were two groups the same. The characters I met in my groups were unforgettable, people whose lives had been pushed to breaking point by their anxiety, who had overcome their fears and attended the groups to help teach others useful recovery methods. And still others who battled each day with their emotions, yet continued to turn up each week to the groups despite the difficulties involved in attending.

I believe there is great value in the support groups that ADAVIC offers and I only wish that more people knew about them. I have heard on a number of occasions how members wished they had heard about the group earlier and that very little is offered to people suffering from an anxiety disorder. Word of mouth is great, so if you gain benefit from the groups – tell others about it!

I thank all the participants involved in the Kew Day Group for providing me with an insight into their unique experiences and wish all ADAVIC members and facilitators the best of luck in the future.

Best Wishes

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