Whilst there are over 180 groups nationwide, we know there are still many areas where people can’t access a Hearing Voices Group. This may be because there simply isn’t a group in their area, but it can also be because the local group doesn’t quite offer what they need or want. Variety is the spice of life, and there really is room for all kinds of group in our network (providing they hold to the core ethos, that is).
I first came to a Hearing Voices Group when I was lost within the mental health system. I felt I had no hope for recovery and no way of coping with my distressing voices, visions and beliefs. The group gave me one of the most important gifts I’ve ever received – it gave me a sense of community and the chance to create my own future. I feel very fortunate to live a life that I love. I’m not a schizophrenic. I’m a survivor.
Rachel Waddingham, Trustee
If you’re thinking of setting up a new Hearing Voices Group (or re-launching an existing one that has faded away) there are a few things you may want to think about. The following list is intended as a guide to be tailored to your needs.
Form a Planning Group
Whilst some dedicated people plan and launch a group on their own, it’s a lot easier if you have others working with you. Forming a planning group gives you the opportunity to bring together a few core people who will help you create a healthy and sustainable group. Try and recruit members who bring different perspectives, experience and skills. This should always include someone with lived experience of hearing voices or seeing visions (if you, yourself don’t have this experience).
Focus Group / Awareness Raising Event
If you don’t have many people to help out, or are struggling to reach out to someone with personal experience, why not run a small awareness raising event to stimulate some interest and get some extra people on board. These events can easily be run on a shoe string budget, especially if you can link with a community organisation that can provide a venue. These events often include a brief introduction to the Hearing Voices approach, a personal testimony and plenty of discussion. It is your chance to show people how different and valuable this approach to voices and visions can be – and to get a buzz going. If you’re struggling for ideas, it can help to contact someone who has already been through this process (perhaps someone from a local group or the national Hearing Voices Network).
Getting The Basics Sorted
Whilst overplanning can really inhibit a group’s development, preventing members from taking ownership of their group, there are certain things which need to be sorted in advance. These things will vary depending on your unique circumstances, but can include the following:
A starting point – once the group is up and running members can change and develop this according to their needs
Who is the group for? Are you open to everyone, or a specific age range? Is the group reaching out to a specific community, gender or sexuality? Are you limiting the group to members of a specific service or area, or are you able to promote it more widely?
If you are planning to set a group up for a specific area or group, challenge yourself to justify this choice and think of reasons against it. For example, you may be a member of a housing organisation and want to set a group up for other clients. Whilst limiting the group to this organisation may seem a logical step, opening it up to a wider group of people can bring in a great diversity of experience that can benefit the organisation as a whole.
Before launching the group, you’ll need to find a small pool of people who are willing and able to facilitate it. Generally, groups are facilitated by two people (although these came come from a larger pool of three or four – which can help keep the group going in the long term). Facilitators can be people from all kinds of backgrounds – but ideally will include at least one person with lived experience of voices or visions. Facilitators need to have an open mind, be willing to see voices and visions from lots of different perspectives (after all, groups welcome a diversity of explanations) and – most importantly – be able to listen to members without feeling the need to ‘fix’.
Think about the support that facilitators need (for example, building in 30 mins after a group for facilitators to chat about their experience of the group and offload is especially helpful after a heavy week). Some areas (e.g. London) have established training courses for facilitators. If you live in an area without a training course, why not contact one that has one – they may be happy to share resources and information with you.
Venue & Timing
Whilst fantastic groups have flourished in the most basic of surroundings, finding the right venue can really help set the tone for a group. If you’re setting up a group in the community, talk to people in the know and find out whether there are any good venues in your local areas. Try and think outside of the box, looking beyond mental health centres to adult education, community or arts centres. Keep in mind the barriers that might stop potential members from coming along, this might include accessibility, religion/culture and transport links.
If you have little or no funding, some organisations will offer free space to community groups. Others may be willing to trade space for free awareness training. Try not to be afraid to ask.
Speak with potential members about the best time and day to run the group. Keep in mind the people you hope will access the group – after work or weekend times may be great for those in work or education, late morning may be best for parents with children in school.
In your group, try and think of creative ways of promoting the group – try to avoid simply creating a flyer and distributing it to local mental health centres. If you use flyers, try and distribute them as widely as you can. Don’t forget local libraries, community groups, adult education colleges, places of worship and GP surgeries. Whilst flyers are great, the personal touch can be really powerful. Promoting the group personally, through making links with local agencies is ideal. Try to identify key people who can promote the group on your behalf. Hearing Voices Groups really are an exciting initiative – and they really make a difference to people’s lives. Use your passion, and the stories of people who have benefited from these groups, to help spread some of this enthusiasm in your community.
Other ideas include: creating a you tube video, making the most of social media (facebook pages, twitter and tumblr), putting an advert in your local paper (or creating a press release for a newsworthy story to raise awareness), getting a stall at local health promotion/mental health trust events, contacting the local radio, setting up a website, sending your details to be listed on the Hearing Voices Network website.
Some groups start with a bang (a big launch event, with guest speakers and workshops). Other start with a whisper (gathering one or two members together for the first group – and growing from there). With your working group members think of the different ways you could launch the group, and decide on the best way forward.
There are lots of things you can, and probably should, think about before launching a Hearing Voices Group. Whilst planning the group, try and keep hold of the idea that Hearing Voices Groups are NOT rocket science. They are simply places where people can meet with other people, without fear of judgement or stigma. Don’t overcomplicate it. Get the basics sorted and ask for advice/support from local groups or the National Hearing Voices Network if you need to.