A group of people sit in a circle comforting each other.

Tips for Starting an In-Person Support Group

Are you interested in starting a support group? Figuring out how to begin may feel daunting. It may take you outside of your comfort zone. But anyone can step in to fill a need! Here are a few tips for how to start an in-person support group.

The 5 Ws and 1H

When starting a support group, begin by answering some basic questions. You can use the 5 Ws (and 1H) that journalists use to approach a topic:1-3

  • Who are the target members, and who will lead the group?
  • What is the primary purpose of your group?
  • Where will your group meet?
  • When and how often will you meet?
  • Why is this group important in this place at this time?
  • How will you structure the group gatherings?

The members

Support groups can target any group of people. Some groups are intended for those who live with a health condition such as chronic dry eye. These groups offer a way to feel less alone when navigating a chronic illness.1-3

Other support groups are for caregivers. They provide a space to learn more about the condition and how to care for their loved one. Members also can share ideas, express their emotions, and give support to each other.1-3

Support groups may include a mix of these groups. They can include those with the condition and those wanting to learn. It is important to clarify who will make up your particular group.1-3

The leader

Establishing a leader or co-leaders is also necessary. Leaders set a tentative agenda for each meeting and keep the discussion on topic during the meeting.1-3

Leaders ensure that every person has the opportunity to speak, which may mean encouraging someone who is quiet to speak up. It may also mean asking someone who talks a lot to create space for other voices.1-3

Assigning a co-leader can be helpful, as no one person has every leadership skill. Seek out someone who complements the leader's skills!1-3

The purpose

A support group should have a clear purpose. But the purpose does not have to be complex! It could be "A gathering of people with chronic dry eye to support each other along the chronic dry eye journey." It could also be "A group to educate caregivers about chronic dry eye." Determine your group’s focus, and create a purpose statement to capture it.1-3

The location

To have an in-person support group, you need a place to gather. Many sites offer free use of meeting rooms. Reach out to different places to ask, and make sure to reserve space ahead of time. Places that may offer meeting spaces include:1,2

  • Retirement communities
  • Libraries
  • Churches
  • Schools

Questions to consider when finding a place include:1,2

  • Is the space accessible for all?
  • What type of setup is possible?
  • How many chairs and tables are available?
  • Who is responsible for space setup and cleanup?
  • Does the space allow food or drinks?
  • How much before the meeting time should the leader(s) arrive? Be sure to build that time into the room reservation.

The timing

At your first meeting, ask members for their feedback on timing. Some support groups meet every other week. Some meet once a month. Some groups continue meeting indefinitely. Other groups have a set end date.1,2

Your group will not be able to meet everyone’s needs or expectations. Choose the frequency that works for the most members.1,2

The reason

Living with a chronic disease like chronic dry eye is hard. Providing space to connect with others can fill a huge need.1-3

But the leader (whether that is you or someone else), does not need to have all the answers. Gathering as a group and knowing you are not alone is enough. Support groups are a space to learn from each other, build friendships, and create community around your experiences with your condition.1-3

The structure

The structure of a support group meeting can vary. You may check in with one another and share struggles. You might discuss a specific topic and socialize at the end. You can also invite guest speakers to present on a topic.1-3

Design the time around what feels best for the most members of the group. What matters most is offering a space for members to be with others who share their experiences.1-3

How do I recruit members for a support group?

How you reach potential members depends on your goals! First, if you know others with chronic dry eye, invite them personally.1-3

Then, think of places that may have a built-in member base, like retirement communities. Ask the directors if you can put announcements about your group in their newsletter. Print flyers to put in communal areas, making sure they are easy to read with large print and plenty of white space.1-3

Groups looking for a wider audience should cast a wider net. Post about your group on social media. Put up flyers in the library, church newsletters, or other community bulletin boards. Ask your doctor and dry eye specialist to post flyers in the clinic.1-3

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