My membership of almost thirty years (collectively) in support teams has been one of the most rewarding features of my life. Most people who have joined such groups report a similar upper. Perhaps you might want the same. If so, this post describes some of the issues in deciding whether to join a support team, and what type it should be.
The most important consideration is whether you have the time to commit to it. Most groups meet every two weeks for 2-3 hours in the evening. Meeting weekly is too major a time commitment for most people, and monthly too long a lapse of time. But even bi-weekly meets can be a challenge for many folks. So your first step is to ensure you can set aside an evening free every two weeks, month after month.
Because showing that you value the group is an important part of developing group cohesion and trust, and because actual attendance shows that best, most groups require a good excuse to miss the meet, like illness, travel, or rare family and work events. Missing the meet because you’d rather go out to dinner with your spouse or watch a regular season ball game, will not suffice. So make sure your schedule allows the commitment that such groups require.
Next you must decide whether you want to be in a gender specific (men or women) or mixed gender group. I’ve been a member of both and each has pluses and minuses. Most people find that they can disclose more freely in a group of their own gender. For example, a popular subject in such teams is sexuality, which in our sex-negative culture few people can talk openly about even in intimate settings. But the confidentiality and trust within a team make sexual revelations much safer, and so it occurs there quite frequently. Because each gender has a different experience of sex, men tend to better understand the male perspective and women the female. Opening up is easier when you believe others will understand you. Hence I hear more dialogue about sex in my two men’s teams than I ever did in the mixed team.
Mixed teams also have the possibility of sexual attractions within the group, and that can make the spouses of the members uncomfortable. On the plus side, mixed teams offer each gender a rare perspective into the world of the other half of humanity. Also, women tend to be better at the type of communication that is key to a successful group — emotional disclosures. They make them more often and in more detail than most men do, and hence mixed groups can gel sooner than a male group.
The next consideration is whether to join an existing group or start a new one. The sad fact is that very few people know about such groups and most of those who do are not interested. Over several years of helping launch support teams I surveyed such groups in my city Vancouver, which is one of the most progressive in the world. My results showed that out of a population of 600,000, at most only 600 were members of such teams; one in a thousand people. More conservative communities would have much less than that. This reflects the fact that in our society deep emotional connections beyond one or two people, are not highly valued.
Further, most existing teams rarely want new members. When groups grow to about eight people, they usually stop admitting new members. Only when somebody drops out are they open to a newcomer. Sometimes groups seek new members via a page on Meetup.org, so check its local listings to see if that is an option in your area.
Another alternative is to join an enterprise that starts groups, most of which are for either men or women but not mixed. Many operate locally, launching teams just in one city, as the one I operated did. Sometimes they are run by a local therapist, usually for a fee. A web search should reveal them if they exist where you live.
Another option, but only for men as far as I can tell, are international organizations that promote regular men’s gatherings. One of them, the Mankind Project (MKP), offers weekend “initiations” were men learn the MKP system and then are eligible to join an on-going MKP group. I know several men who love the MKP initiation process and have been happy group members for many years, but others are not so enthusiastic about such a centralized system and prefer ad hoc groups.
Men’s Sheds also facilitates men’s meetings but with a twist. Their philosophy is “men don’t talk face to face, they talk shoulder to shoulder” such as when they are making things in a shed workshop. Both groups have chapters in many countries.
Or maybe you want to set up your own group. A major advantage of that is that you can invite people whom you know have the necessary skills to function well in such a team. I’ve found that the best candidates are those who prior to joining the team have been members of teams before or have done some “personal work” — therapy or workshops on communication or emotional awareness.
Avoid people who want to join a team to deal with serious problems such as addiction or family breakdown. Although such folks really need support, my experience is that they are generally more inclined to take attention than give it, so make poor members. Of course, once a team is underway and a high level of trust and connection has developed, people will occasionally have personal crises, which teams will help them get through.
To start a group you need a minimum of four. Ask potential recruits if they know candidates. One of my men’s groups started with four people and we each found another person for a total of eight. My other team began when one well connected man knew me and six others who wanted to join. I found the members for my mixed gender team through my personal friendships as well as public seminars on the primal lifestyle that I lead.
The closer potential members live to each other, the better the team. People who have to drive more than half an hour to a meeting are less likely to attend and more likely to drop out.