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Frequently Asked Questions About Peer Support Circles (PSCs)

You will benefit from first reading the page How to Join or Start a Free Support Group. The following answers to the following questions can expand your knowledge of peer support groups, in general. (NOTE: You do NOT need to know all the following information to organize and run your PSC meetings. We've made the tools much simpler than that.)

Magnifying Glass on FAQ

About Support Groups

What is a Support Group?
What is the Support in a Support Group?

About the PSC Process

What Are the Strengths of the PSC Format of Support Groups?
What Does a PSC Look Like?
Who Are the "Peers" in PSCs?
How Are the PSCs So Good at Helping Members to Support Each Other?
How Can People Feel Safe and Accepted in PSCs?
Are PSC's Really Just Therapy Sessions?
Don't I Have to Be a Therapist to Do a Support Group?
How is the PSC Process Evaluated?

About Membership

How Do You Select Members for a PSC?
Where Can I Get Members for My PSC?
I Want to Join a PSC. Can You Help Me?

About Facilitating

What Do I Do When I Facilitate?
Where Can I Learn Even More About Facilitating PSCs?

About Supporting Others

How Do I Know What Priority to Get Support For?
What is "Peer Coaching" in Each Meeting?
What Are Some Coaching Approaches (or Models) to Use in PSCs?
How Do I Know What Kind of Help to Give a Member?
What If a Member Finishes Their Time Slot Early?
What is "Successful" Support?
How Do I Know What Actions to Take Between Meetings?

About Modifying the PSC Process

How Much Can I Modify the Process?
How Can I Modify the PSC to Suit My Culture?
How Do Members Do Virtual PSCs?

About Us, Our Materials and Getting Help

Who Provides PeerSupportCircles.Org? What is Their Expertise?
Can I Use Your Materials in My Group?
What Organizations Has Used Your Peer Coaching Groups?
Where Can I Learn More About the PSC Process?
Where Can I Get Help?


What is a Support Group?

"In a support group, members provide each other with various types of help, usually nonprofessional and nonmaterial, for a particular shared, usually burdensome, characteristic. Members with the same issues can come together for sharing coping strategies, to feel more empowered and for a sense of community." Wikipedia

What is the Support in a Support Group?

"The help may take the form of ... relating personal experiences, listening to and accepting others' experiences, providing sympathetic understanding and establishing social networks." Wikipedia

Support can also include, for example, affirming, validating, advice, useful resources and thoughtful questions. Support typically does not include professional advice, advocacy and funding for members.


What Are the Strengths of the PSC Format of Support Groups?

Our colleagues have studied, developed and facilitated peer groups (including support groups) since 1995 and have learned many best practices along the way. We focus especially on helping people to self-organize and facilitate their own support groups. Our PSCs are especially designed to help group members to:

  • Efficiently organize their own groups, by referencing orderly and concise guidelines
  • Facilitate their own groups, by referencing time-tested and step-by-step tools
  • Effectively support each other, also by referencing time-tested and step-by-step tools
  • Sustain strong attendance, by ensuring each group member's needs are met in each meeting
  • Ensure prompt and useful results, by ensuring that every member takes realistic actions between meetings to address their current needs

What Does a PSC Look Like?

What do they do in the meetings? When do they meet and for how long? Where do they meet? Who leads the meetings? What is the agenda and the ground rules? How much does it cost (it's free)? See What Your Peer Support Circle Will Look Like.

Who Are the "Peers" in PSCs?

Business person loosening tie

All members are "peers" in that they come together as equals to support every member's progress during the group's meetings. Thus, in a PSC intended as a pandemic support group, you could have a senior executive from one company with a secretary from another company -- and they'd still be peers in the group.

How Are the PSCs So Good at Helping Members to Support Each Other?

In experience over the past two decades, members of our peer coaching group framework (of which Peer Support Circles are a format) report that support is their top outcome. This is because the framework focuses on each group member in each meeting.

  1. In a PSC meeting, each member gets time to get support from other members to address his or her current needs. Experience over the past two decades proves that arrangement also sustains strong attendance.
  2. Forms of support in a PSC meeting include, not only listening, affirming and validating, but also sharing respectful and thoughtful questions. That brings out the reflection and wisdom among all members. Thus, members gain more clarity and understanding about their situations.
  3. Also, the forms of support include supporting each member to identify at least one realistic action to take between meetings towards his or her current situation. Thus, members feel more empowered and confident to improve their situations.

Also see Many Benefits of Peer Support.

How Can People Feel Safe and Accepted in PSCs?

All of the members in the PSC have something in common -- they all share a current and very important issue to address in their lives. Members also share biographies and introductions with each other. Also, the ground rules (that are asserted at the beginning and end of each meeting) ensure confidentiality, that all opinions are honored and that members can respectfully disagree with each other.

However, the most powerful experience of safety and acceptance for each member is when he or she is getting help from other members in each meeting. Help is in the form of nonjudgmental feedback, advice and thoughtful questions, as well as contacting each other between meetings.

Are PSCs Really Just Therapy Sessions?

No. PSCs are focused on each member's current priority in life or work, and about what he or she can realistically do about it before the next group meeting. Unlike therapies, PSCs are not focused on continuing to analyze each member's past in order to address a strong, recurring emotional and/or mental problem that has had a significant and adverse effect on the member's life. (Note that some approaches to therapy, for example, Carl Roger's self-directed therapy, would seem somewhat similar to the approach used in support groups.)

Don't I Have to Be a Therapist to Do a Support Group?

No. There is a large number of support groups started by the members themselves. In those groups, members help each other by doing what many people do with their friends: they listen, they affirm, they encourage and they empower.

How is the PSC Process Evaluated?

Near the end of group meeting, each member shares out loud, a rating of the quality of that meeting from "1" (very low) to "5" (very high), and what he or she could have done during that meeting in order to improve that meeting. Also, more comprehensive evaluations can be done half-way through the number of meetings and shortly after the last meeting.


How Do You Select Members for a PSC?

We organize members into the same PSC according to the following criteria:

  1. We aim to have members who face somewhat similar challenges.
  2. We typically avoid having members from the same organization.
  3. We avoid having members from competing organizations.

Before a PSC's meetings start, we make sure that all of its members are aware of the other members and have had the opportunity to opt out of that PSC if they desire.

Where Can I Get Members for My PSC?

You got this! in lightbox

There are millions of people concerned about the virus and many of them have concerns like these. To recruit two to four people for your group, you could reach out to your friends, neighbors, members of organizations that you belong to, contacts in your social media groups and contacts in your email. Give them the Web address of PeerSupportCircles.org PeerSupportCircles.org and ask them to read that page. It concisely explains the need for support groups and how they could be so very helpful.

I Want to Join a PSC. Can You Help Me?

At this point, we are not equipped to manage a waiting list of facilitators and potential group members, and then to begin matching them together. (If you've got ideas, we'd love to hear them.) Thus, we are counting on people to self-organize their own groups now.


What Do I Do When I Facilitate?

The facilitator guides the group through the PSC step-by-step meeting agenda and according to its specific ground rules. Those key tasks for the facilitator are itemized in the section "Facilitation Tasks" in the Quick Reference tool. Usually, that tool alone is sufficient for facilitating a PSC meeting, regardless of a person's experience in facilitation. Many groups share those tasks.

However, if you would like a more comprehensive description, then see the Job Description of Peer Support Circles Facilitator. There are even more specific and advanced descriptions of tasks, if desired, in the document:
Detailed Talking Points to Facilitate Circles.

Where Can I Learn Even More About Facilitating PSCs?

The following document is about when to intervene, what to do if the process is not working for some members, how to deal with conflict, how to address problems in attendance and participation, how to remove and add members, and how to deal with strong emotions.
Advanced Techniques in Facilitating Peer Support Circles


How Do I Know What Priority to Get Support For?

Woman leaning on window

Choose whatever priority is most important to you now. You are the expert at what is most important to you. Do not worry about how small or large in scope that the priority is. Your priority can change from one meeting to another.

What is "Peer Coaching" in Each Meeting?

The term "coaching" is sometimes used to describe the nature of the support that members share in Circles because, similar to coaching in the profession of personal and professional coaching: 1) the use of reflective questions is encouraged; 2) members' support is always focused on what the member selects as his or her current priority; and 3) members aim to support each other, rather than solve each other's problems.

NOTE: There are strong feelings, especially among practitioners in the coaching profession, that coaching is only the asking of thoughtful questions. Thus, they might strongly disagree with the above comparison to coaching.

What Are Some Coaching Approaches (or Models) to Use in PSCs?

There is a vast number of coaching models available to practitioners today. Many of them pertain primarily to one-on-one coaching formats. However, in a group format like PSCs, there are several people concurrently doing coaching and their time is limited for all of them together in a meeting. Thus, it is often best to use models that are simple and straightforward to use.

Two examples are "Head, Heart and Hands" meaning to ask questions about what the member thinks and then feels, but then always what he or she will do (for example, with the hands). Another example is "Caring, Curious and Concise" meaning that all questions should come from a place of caring and curiosity regarding the member who is currently getting coached in a meeting. Also, because of the tight time frame in a meeting, all questions should be posed concisely to the member.

How Do I Know What Kind of Help to Give a Member?

The Quick Reference tool suggests how to support members, including useful questions to offer support. Your Circle organizer might have recommended a certain model of coaching, or support. You might use one of the simple models mentioned above. You might simply ask the member what kind of help they would like. Bottom line: trust your compassion and curiosity.

What If a Member Finishes Their Time Slot Early?

Occasionally, a member might feel that the support has been so useful, that they want to give the rest of their time in the meeting to another group member. Usually, that should be avoided. It is useful instead to continue supporting the member, for example, about how they plan to take realistic actions before the next meeting.

What is "Successful" Support?

A person is giving "successful" support to another if he or she is continually attending to the other person's priority, and doing so in an accepting, compassionate and respectful way. Successful support does not mean that the other person's priority or problem has been successfully solved. The Quick Reference tool reminds members of these important traits for useful support.

How Do I Know What Actions to Take Between Meetings?

The actions that you take (as a result of the help that you get from other group members) is up to you to select. However, it should be an action that is realistic to accomplish before the next meeting.


How Much Can I Modify the Process?

Changing Room door

You can modify the process to suit the nature and needs of your Circle members. However, you should always retain 1) individual time for each member to get supported in each meeting, 2) verifying that each member's actions from the support are indeed realistic, and 3) an evaluation activity in each meeting that requires each member to rate (out loud) the quality of each meeting.

How Can I Modify the PSC to Suit My Culture?

If you believe that your members would benefit from having the PSC process adapted to a particular culture. then use the guidelines in this article:
Acculturating Groups

How Do Members Do Virtual PSCs?

See the section Select Which Virtual Technologies to Use.


Who Provides PeerSupportCircles.Org? What is Their Expertise?

The contents of PeerSupportCircles.org, as well as the ongoing help, is a free offering from the personnel in Authenticity Consulting and Action Learning Source. We and our colleagues have been helping 1,000s of people to successfully organize peer coaching groups around the world since 1995. The design of the groups is adapted from Authenticity Consulting's Authenticity Circles.

Authenticity Circles and the associated materials have been used with peer groups ranging from grassroots' citizenry to employees of global multinational corporations, to people working in federal, state and county governments, to leaders of nonprofits and non-government organizations, small and large, around the world. The most common outcomes reported by group members are strong networking and support. We have repeatedly been told that our trainings and materials are foolproof.

What Organizations Has Used Your Peer Coaching Groups?

Support and networking are two of the top outcomes reported by our clients that have used our peer coaching group framework. Below is a partial list of organizations that we have helped to implement that framework. The Peer Support Circle's format is customized from that framework to provide even more support for its members. The following list does not include the 100s of organizations that our trained facilitators have helped to implement the framework.

Accenture, Alaska State Department, Allianz Life Insurance, American Society for Training and Development, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Booz Allen Hamilton, Boston Scientific, British Petroleum, Charles Schwab, CompassPoint Consulting, Dakota County (MN), Development Training Institute, Fieldstone Alliance, Goodwill Industries, Gunderson Lutheran Hospitals, Gustavus College, Hennepin County (MN), Honeywell, Humanergy, Illinois Arts Alliance, International Association of Facilitators, Kansas Leadership Center, LeanIn Twin Cities Chapter, Microsoft Corporation, Minnesota Department of Corrections, New York Foundation for the Arts, Search Institute, Seattle Lighthouse for the Blind, US Office of Personnel Management and YMCA of Greater Cincinnati.

Can I Use Your Materials in My Group?

See Usage of Materials.

Where Can I Learn More About the PSC Process?

The process is based on the Action Learning framework which has been used around the world for solving complex problems. We have modified the framework over the years to achieve a variety of different outcomes. Each different outcome requires a different design of the framework. We have also integrated various aspects of the coaching process used for personal and professional development.

Where Can I Get Help?

See "Contact Us" in the right sidebar for help via email or in our Facebook group.


(In order of above photos, courtesy of Pixabay, Markus Spiske, Prateek, Juan Pablo Serrano Arenas and Tembella Bohle, respectively, on Pexels.htm)