Author Archives: Merrill Altberg

Group Facilitation Workshop Offered this February

Facilitating a support group can be extremely rewarding, yet challenging at times. The New Jersey Self-Help Group Clearinghouse is presenting a free workshop on Tuesday, February 7, 2017 from 10am-3pm at the Atlantic County Library in Mays Landing.This workshop is designed for persons who are currently, or will be, facilitating any type of self-help support group. This interactive workshop uses a variety of learning techniques including open discussions, self-evaluation quizzes, role playing, strategy sharing, and small group exercises to create a fun and informative workshop. It is an opportunity for group leaders to meet with others to exchange ideas, solutions and techniques to make the role of facilitator easier and more rewarding.

For more information or to register, call Barbara White, New Jersey Self-Help Group Clearinghouse at 1-800-367-6274 or 973-571-4100 ext. 159. Or send an email to:  The Clearinghouse will be offering this workshop in other locations throughout the state in the near future.




The New Jersey Self-Help Group Clearinghouse could use a few good volunteers. Some of the duties would include: calling groups in the database to update their information; and looking for new groups to add to our database. Both of these positions can be done from any location. We also occasionally need people to make copies and collate handouts and put into folders. This volunteer would need to work out of our headquarters in Springfield (Union County).

For additional information contact Barbara White at 1-800-367-6274 ext. 159 or send an email to:




As you probably know, the NJ Self-Help Group Clearinghouse helps people free of charge to start new groups. Below is a list of topics for which we are helping others to start groups around. If you would like to help any of these groups to start (it’s always easier with more than one person!), call Barbara White at 1800-367-6274 or send an email to:

  • Caregivers of Persons with Alzheimer’s Disease (Cape May County)
  • Childless Women (Monmouth County)
  • Emotional Freedom (Ocean County)
  • Emotions Anonymous (Morris County)
  • Faith-based Families of Persons with Mental Illness (Union County)
  • Parents of Children with ADHD (Middlesex County)
  • Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (Monmouth)
  • Shoplifters (Essex County)
  • Single Moms (Atlantic County)


Have you ever attended a support group where members just sat around swapping horror stories about how terrible their lives had become?

Have group participants ever ”dumped” their problem onto the group, only to have additional group members unload even more complaints onto the group instead of offering ideas or solutions? Does there seem to be no good balance of people talking about their problems and others relating their own experiences in having dealt with similar problems or in offering solutions?

Have participants ever left your meeting feeling worse than they did when they arrived? If so, your group has experienced a “pity party.” While this can happen occasionally to many groups, if it occurs on a regular basis, it’s time to “accentuate the positive” and make the group a more positive and uplifting experience for all who attend.

Below are some suggestions on how group facilitators and members can turn the meeting around to focus the group more on hope and recovery than on misery.

  • Ground Rules – Put a sentence in your ground rules or mission statement stating that an important purpose of your group is to help members recognize and share their strengths, successes and hopes—not just their problems. Make sure that this is read at the start of every meeting. Also, focus your group on the concepts of recovery and hope.
  • Check-In – Help your members share their good experiences by reminding them to contribute their insights, quotes and information on helpful resources or literature they have used, or practical coping techniques that work for them. For example, you could build this into the structure of your meetings by regularly starting your meetings with introductions and brief “go-round” that permits each member to briefly answer a question that draws out a positive experience, e.g. “Describe one good thing that you’ve done (or has happened to you) since the last meeting?” Or a similar question could be developed that helps people to share their successes and joys for which they are thankful, etc.
  • Ask Questions – When facilitating the group discussion, don’t move on to the next person’s problem until the first person’s problem has been addressed. You can ask them, “Is there anything that you have tried, or would like to try, to help solve your problem.” Then listen to their answer. You can also ask, “Would you like feedback or ideas from others?” If they say yes, ask the other members if they have any helpful experiences or suggestions that might be helpful. This reinforces the idea that a support group is a place to get ideas on how to deal with problems rather than just a place to complain. And it also encourages an exchange of experiential knowledge among members.
  • Focus on Progress – Remind the participants that support groups should be positive and should focus on the progress that members are making. Sometimes people don’t want to take time away from someone who is having a tough time. But talking about progress is a very important part of a support group. Members can offer each other suggestions and strategies for improvement.
  • Help Members Set Goals – Another way to help members share good experiences is to consider having members set personal goals toward the end of the meeting and then report back at the next meeting how they met that goal or (if not accomplished) what they need to meet it before the following meeting. These goals should focus on things that will help members get closer to recovery or to be better place to cope with their situation.
  • Assign Homework – If many people in the group have the same specific problem, ask them to think about possible ways to deal with the problem in-between meetings, and talk about their thoughts at the next group meeting. This is a good way to get people to take positive action. Ask members which of these ideas they plan to use. This puts the emphasis on making progress and taking action.
  • Share Good News – Find hopeful news related to your issue or disorder. These can include new research studies, helpful magazine articles, news from national organizations, etc. magazine articles, news from national organizations and agencies that deal with your issues, etc.
  • Encourage “Old” Members to Stay – Encourage those who are now doing better or recovered to stay and give back to help others in the group. These veteran members act as good role models to those just starting the journey.
  • Let Others Feel the “Helpers High” Make members more aware of the real health and emotional benefits of helping others. “One of the best ways to take your mind off your own problems is to help others with theirs” e.g., helping members to recognize how helpful it is to give other members feedback, whether it be to summarize the progress of others and the group or to give a helpful “nod of understanding” when a member is sharing.
  • Meeting Not Going Well? Say Something! – As a leader or group member, you can state your reaction to the way the meeting is going without blaming or criticizing. For example, you could say, “I’m feeling that some of us are monopolizing the meeting with some pretty negative comments. Does anyone else feel the same way? A leader’s way of reacting to the meeting can provide a model for members. However, all group members need to take responsibility for how a meeting is going and should not rely solely on the designated leader to keep things on track.
  • Bring a Little Exercise into the Group – No, not Jumping Jacks! Try an “ice breaker” or group exercise during the meeting to help inspire group members. Look on the internet or public library for resources on the various types of small group exercise. These exercises and ice breakers can focus on specific issues such as self-esteem, goal setting, developing a sense of community, communication, etc.

Remember, if your members feel better after they leave the meeting, then you did your job, and did it well!


January is Self-Help Support Group Awareness Month. And January is the perfect month in which to become more aware of the vast variety of support groups available.

Traditionally, January is the time of the year that many people vow to make positive changes in their lives, to break bad habits, and to generally live a happier, healthy lifestyle. These resolutions are commendable but oftentimes more challenging to achieve than to declare. But with the help, support and encouragement you can find in a self-help support group, reaching your goal may be easier and more achievable than you think.  

Want to lose weight? There are many support groups that can offer support including: Overeaters Anonymous (a 12-step program dealing with compulsive eating); Food Addicts Anonymous (where members learn to abstain from sugar, wheat and flour); TOPS (which offers weight loss sessions and weigh-ins and are open to those 7 and up); and Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous (help for food addiction, obesity, anorexia and bulimia). All offer different type of support at no cost.

Have other unhealthy habits that you would like to break? Consider Nicotine Anonymous, Alcohol Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, Sexaholics Anonymous and more. And research has shown that being a member of a group can help a person stick with their goal and achieve their resolution better than trying to go it alone.

Are you in an unhealthy or toxic relationship? If so, there are various groups for men, women, domestic violence, codependency, Al-Anon and Nar-Anon (groups for persons with a loved one with an alcohol or drug-abuse issue).

Have a problem with clutter? Try Clutterers Anonymous. Experiencing burnout from being a caregiver to an elderly parent, ailing spouse, loved on with Alzheimer’s or other dementia, adult child with a serious mental illness? There are groups for all types of caregivers. They provide emotional support, a sense of community, information on local resources, and coping skills.

The groups listed above are just a small sliver of the types of groups available in our database. Use our keyword searchable database or give us a call to see what support groups are in your area to help you deal with life’s stressful situations.