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During this Covid-19 lockdown our usual way of setting up and facilitating groups has become untenable. We simply can’t meet face to face right now – leaving many people without the peer support we know can be a lifeline. Yet even before social distancing and self-isolation become our ‘new normal’, we were aware that far too many people simply can’t access Hearing Voices Groups in person. So, if you’re thinking of setting up a group to meet online – this is an ideal time to do it. At the moment there are no English online Hearing Voices Groups – and we really want this to change.

What are online Hearing Voices Groups?

Online Hearing Voices Groups run along the same values as groups that meet in person. They offer people who hear voices, see visions or have similar sensory experiences the chance to meet and support each other. They can become a safe haven where people feel accepted, valued and understood. However, rather than meeting in a physical location they take place in a virtual meeting room (using a platform such as ‘Zoom’).

Do Hearing Voices Groups really work online?

At our recent ‘Surviving and Thriving in a Mad World’ event, Alison Branitsky shared her experience of facilitating online groups with HVN USA. Whilst there are some differences to facilitating an online group, it was clear that for some people they can be just as useful as an in person group. For others they are more so (sometimes meeting in person can be too much, and the added anonymity and distance of an online group can be useful).

Whilst online groups aren’t for everyone, we get a number of emails asking for them. There’s clearly a need.

How can I set one up?

If you’re already a part of a Hearing Voices Group

If you’re already part of a Hearing Voices Group you should already be familiar with the values and practice of facilitating a group. To help you consider what might be involved in taking it online, check out this video out. Speak about it with group members – is it something they’d be interested in? Is it something that you’d offer only to existing group members, or is it a service you might begin to open up to the wider community? In online groups geography is no barrier, but it’s important to make these decisions collectively.

Check out this webinar by Caroline Rivkah Mazel-Carlton from the Western Mass Recovery Learning Community and HVN USA. She has plenty of experience of both facilitating online groups and supporting others to set them up. It will hopefully give you an idea of what can be involved.

If you’re not part of a Hearing Voices Group, but want to set up something new

Heart button

If you don’t have a group in your area and you’re wanting to think through the possibility of setting one up then it’s a good idea to take it slow. Groups with strong foundations tend to survive longer than those set up in haste.

Every situation is different, but you may want to think about some of the following steps:

Learn about Hearing Voices Groups: If you a new to Hearing Voices Groups the first step is to learn about the approach and, if possible, speak to people who are already facilitating groups. This will give you an idea of what’s involved. Check out our pages on setting up groups for more information.

Connect with others: It’s hard work setting something up on your own. It can help if you find others who are also interested in setting up an online group (e.g. posting on the Hearing Voices Network facebook page, asking us to share a request amongst our members in our newsletter or contacting a local mental health charity).

Ideally, if you’re new to Hearing Voices Groups, you might want to create a team that includes someone with experience of facilitating or attending a Hearing Voices Groups. The good part about it being online is that you can form partnerships with like-minded people from different areas and countries. We are part of the International Hearing Voices Community so there should be plenty of people to connect with.

Be clear about your role as a facilitator: In usual times you might want to access some Hearing Voices Group Facilitation training. You could also speak with other facilitators (contact HVN for ideas on how to do this), read material about Hearing Voices Groups and speak to people online who have attended Hearing Voices Groups. If you’re not sure, email us at HVN and we’ll try and point you in the right direction.

Resource: Check out Intervoice’s page on Hearing Voices Groups.

Get the basics in place: When we set up groups that meet in a physical location we need to think about the time, be clear about the purpose of (and limits of) the group, think about who might come and how we advertise, think about whether it’s a ‘drop in’ group or a group that people need to sign up to, think about what details you need from people, think about what you (and other members) might do if someone is in a crisis and you’re worried. Check out our planning guidance for groups.

Other options

Facilitating a peer support group without training or support can be a bit overwhelming. Whilst groups are co-produced with members, being the ‘facilitator’ does come with additional responsibilities and a time of crisis may not be the easiest time to jump in and give it a go.

So, if you want to create online spaces for those who are socially isolated or stuck inside, there are some other options. Instead of beginning with face to face groups, we have known people to set up other opportunities that are less explicitly about ‘support’ and therefore feel less pressured.

These have included:

  • information sessions about the Hearing Voices Movement
  • film evenings (showing a voices-related film and hosting a discussion about it afterwards)
  • discussion groups – choosing an article or idea to think about in advance and then meet together to discuss it
  • social spaces – having a cup of tea and a biscuit, listening to music and just being together

Each of these can happen online. You might want to record a webinar discussing something about voice-hearing that you find interesting and then set up a time to discuss it with your friends or people within a Hearing Voices community online (using social media, for example). You might want to set up a discussion group and get ideas for articles or quotes to use as themes. Even film clubs can happen online – with someone ‘screen-sharing’ the film using ‘Zoom’ and then people staying around afterwards for a discussion.

The punchline

There are creative workaround for these times … but doing it alone can be tricky. If you take anything from this information, we hope you get the idea that the first step is to reach out and find someone else to work with.

You can email us at the Hearing Voices Network if you want to share an idea. We have limited resources, but we will do what we can to help (even if that’s just trying to connect you with others).