National Alliance on Mental Illness
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NAMI Massachusett's Support Group Facilitator Skills Training Program

NAMI Massachusetts is doing a superb job of running the Support Group Facilitator Skills Training program. They launched the program in 1995 and currently have nine affiliates running this model with a total of 30 support groups per month. Claire Boudreau is the coordinator for the NAMI Support Group Facilitator Skills Training and NAMI-CARE (Support group facilitation training for consumer peers) programs in Massachusetts. She believes these programs have increased the awareness about mental illness in the community because it helps family members find a voice with lawmakers and doctors, as well as their own families and acquaintances. Through this program, family members are able to advocate better for their loved ones, and they learn that their feelings and thoughts are normal. Most importantly, they realize that others share their feelings. Family members are able to receive information about NAMI education courses as well as other valuable local resources on mental illnesses through the support groups.

The NAMI Support Group model differs from the more traditional “share-and-care” model in that it offers an innovative set of group structures and processes specifically designed to help facilitators in their support work with caregivers dealing with mental illness. These various procedures come with clear guidelines and when used together, they encourage full-group participation which results in upbeat, constructive support group meetings. Both seasoned and less experienced facilitators have found these new methods easy to learn and a joy to utilize because they steer the group process through many problematic situations, which commonly undermine support group effectiveness. This Support Group Facilitator Skills Training model is being run in 37 states. Claire says the key to success is recruiting and training facilitators by educating the affiliates officers and their members of the benefits of this type of support group format.

NAMI Massachusetts recruits facilitators for the Support Group Facilitator Skills Training program in several ways. First, they use their website to list recruitment ads. Second, they incorporate the training schedule in all NAMI-MASS applicable publications and weekly update emails. Third, NAMI Massachusetts announces information about the Support Group Facilitator Skills Training program at the affiliate council meeting that occurs quarterly. Next, they take the opportunity in the Family-to-Family course to learn if any family members are interested in the Support Group program. Also, when the volunteers and staff of the NAMI-Massachusetts Education Committee are invited to give presentations at affiliate meetings, information on the Support Group Facilitator Training and its’ benefits are strongly emphasized. For NAMI Massachusetts, these recruitment methods have been very effective.

The Support Group Program in Massachusetts had several highlights during the previous year. First, they started a well-spouses’ group, facilitated by a couple who have experience in this area. Second, they were able to establish a support group in Boston. It is run by two African-American women and is held in a very active local recreation center. The support group is primarily African-American which allows them to reach out to a more culturally diverse community. NAMI Massachusetts hopes to get more facilitators from this group and to extend the coverage to other areas of Boston.

NAMI Massachusetts has several goals for the Support Group Facilitator Skills Training program in 2006. They want to expand the program into more of the local and smaller affiliates. NAMI Massachusetts’s long-term goal is to have a weekly support group in every affiliate. Currently, they have three out of 25 local affiliates running a weekly support group.

Volunteers from the Support Group Facilitation Training team of NAMI Massachusetts travel statewide to train groups of eight or more people for the Support Group Facilitator Skills Training program, instead of having one large statewide training. Also, they have conducted the training on three consecutive Saturdays. These two changes have allowed NAM-MASS 1) accommodate the participants, and 2) to be able to hold trainings throughout the year.

Claire Boudreau has been with the program since it started. She is a family member and consumer and has trained 120 facilitators of which approximated 100 are still active. Last year alone, 20 facilitators were trained.

When Claire was asked about the Support Group Facilitator Skills Training program’s affect on others, she stated “I personally feel that support groups are the backbone of NAMI. Education courses are excellent, but they only last 12 weeks whereas the support groups run year-round. Support groups are the entrance for many to NAMI.”

This is an excellent Support Group Facilitator Skills Training model that your affiliate can use. State organizations should contact Ana Ferrara via e-mail at for information about training State Trainers next spring in St. Louis, Missouri. If you are a local support group facilitator and would like to attend a Facilitator Skills Workshop, contact your state office to find out when the next training session will be held.