There has been a two-week hiatus in posts on Grief after Suicide because I am on the road, having driven from my home in Watertown, Mass., to Colorado Springs, Colo., for last weekend's TAPS National Military Suicide Survivor Seminar. This is the second year I have attended the TAPS (Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors) event as a trainer of peer helpers on suicide bereavement support group facilitation. I've used the opportunity to refine a facilitation model of my own creation,* called "Peer Sharing Circles."Peer Sharing Circles are governed by fewer, simpler, and more generally stated "ground rules" (called "Protocols") than those in other mutual-help group approaches. Here are the Protocols:
• I agree to listen attentively and respectfully to the person who is speaking (only one person speaks at a time).
• I agree to talk only about my own experiences and to refer only to my own thoughts, feelings, and beliefs.
• I agree to speak to the whole group (not to just one individual).
• I agree not to judge others, correct others, or give advice to others.
• I agree to keep confidential what is said within the Circle.
• I agree to give the facilitator my attention when he or she asks me to.
The Circles also feature a "hands off" approach by the facilitator, who concentrates almost exclusively on structure (providing a safe space for sharing) and process (following the Protocols). He or she does not "manage" the content shared by the group, unless problematic content enters into the sharing (such as thoughts of suicide). The facilitator also provides almost no psychoeducation on grief and hardly ever talks about his or her story of loss (other than to identify himself or herself as a suicide loss survivor). The model truly relies on peers helping one another cope with their grief.
In fact, the facilitator intervenes in only one way, and when he or she does intervene, there are primarily two actions the facilitator takes, which are called affirming and inviting (to affirm whoever is speaking and then to invite further sharing, either from the speaker or from the whole group). Again, there are exceptions to these limitations when it comes to intervening in problematic content or behavior, but even so, the facilitators' role in resolving "problems" mainly involves illustrating the Protocols or helping group members practice them.
Another advantage of this model is that it relies on the facilitator being able to execute a handful of discreet skills that are all capable of being learned. Several of those skills are related to the Protocols (listen, do not judge, speak to the whole circle, and protect confidentiality), and the rest are unique to the Sharing Circle model (interrupt with kindness, affirm and invite, and integrate the Protocols into the group dynamics).
If you are interested in Peer Sharing Circles, here are the step-by-step instructions for conducting a Circle (from the handout I used at my training last weekend), and I'd be glad to correspond with you about it (please see the Contact page).* I say it is "a facilitation model of my own creation," but -- as with all innovations -- it is based on ideas that preceded it, for instance (to name only a few of those ideas), the facilitator training put together for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention by Jack Jordan and Joanne Harpel; the approach described by Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea in The Circle Way and summarized in the free download at bit.ly/circleguidelines; and the free support group facilitator materials mentioned in this blog post.