Set Up a Survivor Support Group

Tim Field founded the UK National Workplace Bullying Advice Line in January 1996 and it went on to log over 10,000 cases of bullying. This article draws on Tim's experience of how to set up and run a bullying survivor support group.

1. Aims and objectives

The first objective is to determine the aims and objectives of the group. Having a meeting to chat about experiences is fine for a first occasion, but thereafter needs direction if people are to move forward from their experience.

Secondly, who are going to be your members or attendees? Whilst you might wish to focus primarily on workplace bullying, most of the behaviours (and consequences for those who are bullied) are the same whether you are bullied at work, at school, in the home, or in the services. Are you going to allow targets of harassment and discrimination to join? They've been bullied too.

Thirdly, what are you going to do for those that come to your meetings?

Fourthly, where are you going to meet and how often?

Fifthly, how are you going to fund the group?

2. Dealing with difficult behaviour

More than 95% of your enquirers will be genuine, responsible, caring people in genuine need of help, but a small number may cause difficulties, being:-

a) dominant characters who want to take over and tell everyone else what they should be doing (the words "should" and "ought" are indicators). They often see themselves as wonderful, kind, caring, and compassionate but are oblivious to their dominant and aggressive behavior;

b) people who are trapped in a state of victimhood and cannot move forward;

c) people who have not been bullied but who pose as victims anyway, who drain the emotional resources of anyone prepared to lend a sympathetic ear.

Prepare yourself for difficult behaviour and have a plan to protect yourself. Barry Winbolt's books and website are filled with good tips on this topic.

3. Venue

Cost is likely to be the determining factor and whilst it is tempting to hold meetings in your home, this can be intrusive, especially if you have family. You must consider your personal safety and the security of your home. A local pub is an option but it may come with the implicit obligation to "rent" the space by buying drinks etc. You might find the best option is to borrow or hire a church hall or meeting room (eg Quaker or Methodist centres), or perhaps you know of other similar groups in your area who might be willing to lend you a room. A kindly employer, school, college, adult or community education centre, council, union, or other organisation may be approachable and persuadable.

4. Funding

Unless you win the lottery, running a support group will involve cost which somebody (initially you) will have to bear. Costs include telephone, postage, hire of venue, publicity, travel, photocopying, stationery, etc. Whilst you may be able to fund the start-up yourself, long-term survival and success depends on satisfactory on-going funding. Bear in mind it may be possible to combine publicity and fund-raising, eg cake stall in town on Saturday morning. Get your financial strategy sorted before you start.

5. Contacts

Running a support group can be very rewarding but also draining. Bullying is an isolating experience and it is essential to maintain a network of contacts, personal and professional, on whose experience and support you can draw. A significant role of support groups and advice lines is referral. Contact with other support groups (eg Al-Anon, Victim Support) enables you to tap other people's experience.

6. Confidentiality

Confidentiality is essential. There are many personal and practical reasons that people who are bullied require confidentiality. You will probably find that once amongst others who have suffered in the same way, much of the fear will fade away to be replaced by a determination to take action. Whilst the group can interact with the media - to mutual benefit - individual decisions on privacy and non-disclosure must be respected.

7. Related abuse

Bullying is the common denominator of harassment, discrimination, physical and sexual abuse, conflict and violence. Targets of sexual discrimination and harassment, racial discrimination and harassment, sexual abuse (especially as children), stalking, domestic violence, assault etc may also want to be involved - you need to determine the scope of your group and perhaps whether sub-groups or related groups should be formed. You might want to form a sub-group for people suffering PTSD. There is a lot of overlap. Alternatively, find out about other relevant support groups in your area and refer people on.

8. Resources

If you hold a stock of books remember that eventually some will go missing. It's probably better to hold a list of resources, then let people obtain their own copies. Public libraries are of course a natural source of books. College, university or business libraries hold specialist publications and professional magazines, and are often open to the public for reference. Case law is contained in Industrial Relations Law Reports (IRLR) which may be available through college libraries. Of course the Internet is filled with easily accessible information on all topics, but make sure you get your information from reputable sources.

9. Helplines

If you're planning to set up a Helpline to go with the support group, consider contacting and joining The Helplines Partnership, the membership body for organisations that provide helpline services in the UK and internationally. "We facilitate high quality service delivery to callers by providing services, including training, contact solutions, a Helplines Quality Standard , tailored support and information resources. We raise the profile of the sector by representing our members’ interests and influencing the social policy agenda. We give providers of helpline services a voice to help them build sustainability and promote excellence, choice and accessibility for everyone."

10. Constitution

Once you have established the group you will need a constitution. This simply states, in writing, the nature, objectives and constitution of the group and how you will handle issues like confidentiality. Although a group doesn't have to have a constitution, it will be stronger and more professional with one. You will almost certainly need a constitution for the group to open a bank account. The (now disbanded) Oxford group OXBOW made its constitution available on the web site - you can use this as a basis for yours.

11. Officers

Most groups operate with a Chairperson, a Secretary, and a Treasurer. If you are expecting to undertake publicity and deal with the media, a Press Officer is a good idea. Someone who is articulate, can answer media questions easily, clearly and succinctly, and has tact as well as determination. Media requests tend to come in at short notice, eg on the same day or, if you're lucky, on the day before. Someone in full-time employment might find their contractual obligations make working with the media difficult.

12. Structure

Many local groups appoint sub-committees to focus on particular issues, eg legal action, campaigning, research, publicity, etc; this allows people with similar interests and objectives to work together and it's in these sub-committees that the real work is done. Progress by sub-committees is then reported at group meetings.

13. Publicity - announcing your presence

There are many opportunities for free advertising: when you establish the group, issue a press release to the local newspapers and radio stations - they are always on the look-out for local news, especially anything pertinent, topical, new and local. Publicise your group with a website or a Facebook Group or Page. You may be able to obtain a feature in your local newspaper. Letters to the editor announcing your group, its aims, venue etc are often printed (letters must be less than 300 words). Remember that bullying (in all its forms) is a hot topic and one featured regularly in the media. Capitalise on this.

People who have suffered injustice often make excellent and tireless campaigners. The group has to decide whether local or national campaigning is an objective.

14. Meeting content

Whilst some have suggested meetings along the lines of the 12-step Alcoholics Anonymous programme, we suggest a more information-oriented approach. Knowledge is empowerment, and once people know why it happened to them. most quickly regain control and begin to deal with it. The answers are on this web site. Practical information, especially over the health risks and legality of people's bullying experience is very important.

15. Compassion fatigue

Helping others who have been abused can be emotionally draining and lead to "compassion fatigue" with symptoms like irritability, disinterest and fatigue. These symptoms start to intrude, for instance, when a person describes their experience in minute detail for the Nth time. If you feel this way, it's time for you to take action and that may be moving on.

16. Resources

Connect Self Help UK, ISBN 0 9521031 1 7

Self Help Groups - Getting Started, Keeping Going, Judy Wilson and Jan Myers, ISBN 1-874259-00-3