Contributed by Mind in Camden’s London Hearing Voices Project.
The amount of planning that you put into the Hearing Voices Group will depend on your individual situation, however in our experience groups really do benefit from time spent:
- Engaging with stakeholders (including potential group members, service managers, staff, potential referrers)
- Clarifying the ethos of the group (the group’s remit, ways of encouraging group ownership)
- Working out the practicalities (group facilitators, venue, time, confidentiality, promotion/marketing, referrals/self referral procedure)
Form a working group
Whilst you can plan the group yourself, we’ve found that forming small working groups are really worthwhile. Ideally, the group should include:
- Group facilitators
- People with direct experience of voices/visions (if there’s no voice hearers involved at the outset, why not present some info on the approach in your service and find out if anyone is interested in helping out?)
- Representative(s) of the host organisation (e.g. manager – although these may wish to be consulted via email)
The group can also include anyone who is passionate/enthusiastic about setting up a Hearing Voices Group in the organisation (service users, staff from your organisation, staff from partnership organisations, students and/or volunteers). You may also want to invite someone who has already set up a successful group elsewhere in your discussions.
There’s a wealth of knowledge and experience out there, so don’t be shy in hooking in to it. There really is no need to reinvent the wheel.
Setting an agenda
Once you’ve got a small group of people together who are committed to taking a Hearing Voices Group forward, it helps to set an agenda and timeline to help keep things focused. You can set this at the first meeting, but may want to consider:
- Why do we want to set up a Hearing Voices Group?
- How do we hope people will benefit from the group?
- What can the group achieve, what it outside of its remit?
- How can we encourage the group to be user-led, self-determining?
- What do we need to plan in advance and what should we leave for the group to decide?
- What’s the best location for the group?
- If there’s limited choice about location, is there anything we can do to make the room feel more comfortable/welcoming (including cushions, posters, wall hangings – be creative)?
- When’s the best time for the group?
- In the first session, how should we structure things? Some groups start with refreshments and time to get to know each other informally. Others have a refreshment break in the middle. Note: this is your initial idea for the first session – the group should decide its own structure early on, so its good to be flexible.
- Confidentiality (what stays within the group, what doesn’t – how can we involve group members in discussions around confidentiality and ensure people are aware of any limits).
- Do we need any funding? What do we need, and how can we get it? If funding isn’t available, Hearing Voices Groups can be run very cheaply and refreshments can be contributed by group members – don’t assume that the organization needs to provide everything.
- Who will facilitate the group (it really helps to facilitate in pairs, rather than on your own) and how will we organize the rota?
- If there aren’t any voice-hearers who want to facilitate the group, how can we find some?
- How are facilitators going to communicate with/support one another (include time to talk after the group, accessing support from your national or local network etc).
- How will the facilitators stay ‘fresh’ and enthusiastic?
- As the group progresses, how can we encourage group members to begin to co-facilitate or take on responsibilities for the group?
- What worries/concerns do the facilitators have and how can we alleviate these?
- Who is the group for? Is it just for people in a particular service, or with a particular background (e.g. women, LGBT, BME, inpatients)? Is it open to anyone who hears voices or sees visions?
- How do people join the group? Do they need to phone first, or can they turn up? Do we need to meet with them before the group?
- What information do we need from members? Think about what information we really need, and what information we’re just used to asking for in services.
- Are we going to set up an optional ‘crisis card’ system where members can choose to tell us a bit about the things they struggle with in a crisis, what helps, what doesn’t help and who they’d like us to contact in an emergency?
- If members stop coming to the group, is it OK to contact them to check things are OK? It’s often best to ask this at the first meeting to find out what group members think.
- How will people find out about the group (think about a range of different methods/settings – including mental health centres, GPs, community centres, voluntary agencies, newspaper articles, leaflets, posters, radio, word of mouth, local newsletters, national network, going to centres and meeting people in person etc).
- What message do we want to get across in our publicity?
- What’s different about our group?
- What do people need to know before deciding to come to the group?
- Why would anyone want to come to the group? What would they want to get out of it? What might worry or concern them? How can we capture this in our publicity?
- Should we create a brief information pack for potential members, or will a leaflet do?
- Is there anyone who is willing/able to do word of mouth publicity (e.g. giving talks to service user groups or organisations)?
- What have other Hearing Voices Groups / initiatives done successfully and what can we learn from/use?
- Do we know anyone who is particularly artistic and/or creative who could help with designing publicity materials?
- Why might we need to evaluate the group? Do we need to justify ourselves to funders, service managers, service users or do we want to improve the group?
- What do we need to evaluate, exactly? E.g. are we sticking to the ethos? Is there anything we need to do differently? Do we need numbers and/or quotes?
- How can we evaluate the group? Try to be creative. When the group is running ask the group members for their ideas/suggestions too.
- How does the organisation, as a whole, feel about the group?
- Is there likely to be any resistance/concerns about the group – how can we allay these?
- How can we promote the group within the organization at all levels?
- If any of the facilitators are staff within the organization, will there be any confusion/conflicts over these two roles (including, but not limited to, responsibility and confidentiality). How can we deal with these?
- How can we make sure that the group continues to be supported by the organisation?
- If the group is a partnership between two or more organisations, how will these organisations work together? Does the partnership need ot be in writing? Whose policies/proceedures will you use – are there any potential sticking points and how can these be managed?
- Are there any issues that we are unsure of? If so, who can we ask for support?
Don’t feel you need to look at all these issues before beginning the group – it’s impossible to be totally prepared for all the issues that may arise and there is limited benefit gained from overplanning. Try to decide which issues are particularly crucial for the group you’re trying to set up. Keep discussions focused and, where possible, set targets for agreed actions. Planning groups tend to work best when there’s a tangible sense of things moving forwards between each meeting. It can be hard to maintain enthusiasm when meetings seem to continually revisit old ground.
One the Hearing Voices Group is up and running, you may find that new issues arise (or old ones need revisiting). Rather than doing this outside of the Hearing Voices Group, it’s really beneficial to encourage group members to become actively involved in shaping how things run. We’ve seen numerous examples of group members contributing to evaluation, structure, facilitation and fundraising.
Remember it’s their group, not yours.
Holding a launch event
Groups can launch in different ways, depending on the setting and what you think will work best.
Some common ways to launch a group, includes:
A. Just get started: Instead of having a specific launch, this option involves just starting the group. The benefits are that it’s simple, it’s easy to arrange and is less daunting than a conference or specific event. The drawbacks are that people may not recognise how Hearing Voices Groups are different from other approaches, and those who feel worried about disclosing that they hear voices may not attend. Joining a Hearing Voices Group can feel like a big step for some people.
B. Open event: Some people choose to launch their group by having an open event at the same time/place as the group. This is open to people, whether or not they hear voices. It can include supporters, staff and interested others. The event will usually include someone talking about their own experience of recovery and some awareness raising themes. People have the opportunity to find out more about the group, ask questions and – ideally – shape it.
The benefits are that it can help reduce stigma, reach out to people who are unsure whether or not to come and introduce the approach. The drawbacks are that it takes a little bit more organisation, and that people who attend and hear voices may really want specific time for peer support.
C. Celebration: Some people choose to promote/launch their group in a more creative way. They might host a gig, an event or something that celebrates the launch of the group and the creativity of voice-hearers.
The benefits of this include awareness raising, challenging stigma and the opportunity to showcase people’s creative talents. The drawbacks can be that these events may be quite anxiety provoking for some (including the facilitators) and that they need time to arrange.
D. Conference. Some people choose to launch a group with a conference. This can be as big or small as needed, but includes people invited to talk about topics relating to voices/visions. It is ideal to include a range of perspectives to reflect the Hearing Voices Groups ethos of diversity (e.g. spiritual as well as psychological). Stories of recovery and resilience, as well as the opportunity for people to talk in groups can help create an event that feels very vibrant and inclusive.
The benefits include: awareness-raising; provides a good introduction to the diversity of the approach; engages professionals as well as people with lived experience. Drawbacks include: conference can be anxiety provoking (so ensure you include some safe spaces/chill out areas); resources (money/time).
Getting the balance between planning and doing is vital. Time spent making sure everyone is on board with the ethos, thinking through potential sticking points and engaging with potential group members can hep you build a group that has strong foundations. However, never let the planning process block the group’s development.
Hearing Voices Groups are not rocket science – they are simply safe spaces for people to share their experiences.