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Facilitating my first men’s group

Men crave connection, aren’t getting enough of it, and find it quite meaningful when they do.

Cite this
Society of Group Psychology and Group Psychotherapy. (2022, March 1). Facilitating my first men’s group. https://www.apadivisions.org/division-49/news-events/men-group

A group of men talking in a circle

Encouragement

Following Division 49 has helped me to keep the group format in mind and it was at the encouragement of my Division 51 (Men and Masculinities) mentor that I eventually formed a men’s discussion group. He frequently mentioned the benefits of groups, perhaps particularly for men. Still, I’m quite “early career” and was hesitant to use the group format at first. I simply didn’t feel ready yet. Over the course of a year, I occasionally read about groups and gained some familiarity with what I could expect in terms of content and dynamic. Finally, I took the leap and invited a number of my clients from my individual counselling practice to join a discussion group. After leading that first group for its planned 10 sessions, I was convinced that it was a fantastic idea, and was thankful that I did it.

Composition

That first group was composed of five clients all of whom I had been seeing in individual counselling. There did not seem to be any personality disorders, no one whom I expected to be disruptive in any way, and all evidence indicated that they would do well in, and benefit from, a group setting. When I mentioned the group to these clients, I referred not only to their potential to benefit from the group but also what strengths and experiences they would be bringing that could benefit others. That was another tip from the mentor.

Expectations

I had expected the facilitating to need to be more active than has been the case. I do pay close attention to what is going on, and comment or ask a question from time to time, but I generally feel that the group runs itself. I expected that the guys would need more encouragement to open up to each other, and more probing to get them to reflect and respond to content shared by other group members. That has also not been the case. I also expected that they would get along well and find common ground, and they have.

I planned to share any personal material of relevance at about the same level as in individual counselling with them since I see them there too, granted my sharing is rather minimal as one might expect. If anything, I have shared less in group because they were sharing with each other, so normalizing and validating was happening without any need for me to provide it. My default approach has been that if a group member says something instead of me doing so, that’s a win for him as well as the group, and there’s no need for me to add to it.

Surprises which probably should not have been surprises

I was surprised at how quickly the guys opened up to each other with minimal prompting and at the level of empathy and support they showed for one another of their own initiative. It was wonderful to watch. I think they may have surprised themselves by how quickly and how deeply they went and several mentioned that having deeper, especially emotional, conversations with other guys was a new experience for them. I was happy to hear a few also say that they had, or plan to, try talking to some of their friends in that way and see if they can take conversations with them a little deeper. This part wasn’t a surprise, it was a goal, but how quickly they arrived at that point was surprising.

What I’ve learned

Guys crave connection, aren’t getting enough of it, and find it quite meaningful when they do. That’s not exactly news, but seeing connection develop between people because of a context created to facilitate it was a particularly rewarding experience. And seeing how quickly it can happen when the conditions are right was also a lesson in rapport-building and in the power of the group format. I have also learned that I want to learn more about groups and the theory and practice of creating and facilitating them. I also want to learn more about integrating the individual and group sessions. Some content crosses from one to the other (in either direction) but for the most part the two seem to be operating mainly in parallel. I learned that playing more of a backseat role and encouraging them to see it as their group, not mine, worked well. I felt that this may have contributed to empowering them to take the lead with their sharing and their demonstrations of empathy. A group member did float the idea of them meeting outside of the group context, but the group meets online and meeting in person wasn’t very practical. Had a meeting been planned, I would have asked them to ensure that they maintain confidentiality by not discussing group conversations in public or with non-group members present. I might also ask that they consider waiting until their time-limited group participation ends so as not to have a different relationship among those who met, than with other group members.

Next steps

I’m now running a second group and will soon be facilitating a group of group facilitators for a Canadian not-for-profit organization. This group will be comprised of people who are facilitating their own groups for adults and youth in various cities across Canada. Again, the mentor’s encouragement is what led me to be on the lookout for such an opportunity, and I’m sure it will be quite enriching to share in the experiences of these colleagues.

Having shared these thoughts, I’m very much open to any feedback, tips, or suggestions anyone might like to share about forming and running groups – including book recommendations!

I can be reached via email.