How to start a Social Anxiety Anonymous / Social Phobics Anonymous Support Group: Some Helpful Tips
(Here is the text of the original article, which was up on the site for over 10 years).
When the darkness comes for me, I will light a lamp.
With that lamp, I will light the way for others.
Together, we will find the new day.
It is through helping our fellow social anxiety sufferers that we ourselves are set free from our own anxiety problems.
We have found that there is a kind of spiritual principle at work here– there is something about helping others (especially helping those with the same problems that we have) that heals us as we do the helping.
In any case, here are 12 simple steps to starting an SPA support group that you may find useful (you might want to print this out):
1) If you start an SPA group we will list it for free on our web page (if you like) so that people can find out about it.
2) Find a centrally located meeting place. Churches or Synagogues often let support groups meet in their basements. You can also try hospitals, libraries, community centers, schools or universities. You may have to call a lot of places because many groups use these spaces, but if you keep at it you shouldn’t have too much trouble finding a meeting space. If possible, find a place with free or inexpensive parking in a well lit area.
Some of these places require a small ‘rent’ of a few dollars a week or a month. If so, these places will usually lower the rent or even drop it to zero if you explain that you are starting a new group and won’t have a lot of people in the beginning.
The recommended way to pay for a room ‘rental’ is to take a collection at every meeting (pass the hat or the basket and people throw in a dollar or two or whatever they can). This usually covers the rent. Important– Always make it clear that nobody has to donate if they don’t want to. There should be no pressure about donations– only the the love and understanding of the fellowship.
3) Set a meeting time and keep to it faithfully. We suggest that you meet every week at exactly the same time. The reason is, if the time varies (or if you meet less than once a week) people will get confused about whether or not your meeting is ‘on’ or not this time around and they will tend not to come rather than waste a trip.
Be sure to be on time for the meeting and stay for the whole meeting time, even if no one else comes in the beginning. (Sometimes a new person will get lost on their first visit to your group and they might show up late– even in the last 5 minutes of the meeting, so just be patient and wait through the whole meeting time so that you can greet all newcomers and make them feel at home).
This will help your group to grow and help it meet that critical mass where it becomes a self-perpetuating support group, no longer dependent on you.
4) Advertise the support group meeting on an ongoing basis. **Very Important** Support groups rarely last very long by word of mouth alone. A regular ad in a newspaper is essential to the success of a local (face-to-face support group). However the good news is, you can often get this advertising for free or cheap. First, try calling the ‘Calendar’ department of your local Newspapers, they often list support groups for free.
A few flyers or an occasional ad won’t cut it. Sporadic efforts that don’t reach a large number of people generally won’t create the consistent attendence by newcomers needed to build and then sustain the support group.
Also important– Whichever way you get your ad listed, be sure to run it at least 3 times a month (month after month– year round). We have found that just running one ad a month– or running occasional ads– will almost never generate enough of a consistent response to build a sustained and ongoing SPA support group. Consistent advertising is key (although it often doesn’t have to be expensive).
How To Advertise the group for free or (usually) inexpensively: If your city or town calendar section won’t list your group for free, then try getting a classified ad. These are often not very expensive. If you can’t afford the Sunday section, then try a weekly edition (weekly ads are often cheaper). Note– if you live in major urban areas you may find that there is no way to avoiding paying a bit more for a an ongoing classified ad, even in the weekday sections.
Consider the cost of doing nothing. Keep in mind that the relatively small investment of time and money in starting a SPA support group is very much worth it. Ask yourself what the elimination of your social anxiety problems is worth to you personally.
Compare this to the ‘opportunity costs’ of missing out on the recovery from social anxiety that the SPA support group can provide– a continuation of miserable anxiety symptoms, possibly for years to come, continued reduced quality of life, lost or strained relationships with friends and family, lost job or educational opportunities and perhaps the lost opportunity to ever develop an intimate and meaningful relationship with that special someone (or the undermining of the quality of an existing intimate relationship). In light of this, many of us with anxiety disorders have decided that the small time and expense required to start an SPA group is far outweighed by the benefits.
5) Get the books. Once you have the recommended SPA books, we suggest that the first 1/3 of the meeting time be spent reading from the books to the group.
6) You do not have to have recovered from social anxiety yet yourself and you do not have to understand the books yet either to start a Social Phobics Anonymous support group.
NOTE: The above article (listed for nearly 10 years on the website) was written before the advent of Facebook, Myspace, Twitter and also Meetup, which make the formation of support groups even easier. Now you can start a new gathering / promotion space for your support group in literally minutes (Internet message boards are also a good space to start). With the exception of Meetup, these new groups will begin with online posts, although there you can also post a conference call phone number to invite people to a phone call group where you can meet and talk (using one of the many free telephone conference call services, easily found online). With Meetup, the creation of a live group is even easier and results are often forthcoming locally within one or two weeks. As with all support groups for people with Social Anxiety problems, persistence is key to developing a consistent group. Many people with social anxiety have a phobia of live groups, so expect lots of turnover when you get to the live group component. Don’t give up anyway, and eventually you will have a stable core of group members.
In order to properly name your group according to the Social Anxiety Anonymous Licensing policy, see also Finding Social Phobics Anonymous support groups and the new SocAA / SPA licensing policy