10 things I’ve learned from facilitating family caregiver support groups

For the past 8 years, once a month, sometimes twice per month, I’ve been facilitating support groups for the Family Caregivers of BC . For the first 4 years those groups were co-ed groups. For the past 4,  I’ve been facilitating a men-only group.  Since the start of the pandemic the men’s group has been virtual, province/BC-wide. My role as facilitator is volunteer, and will continue…

When the opportunity to volunteer as a facilitator with Family Caregivers of BC first came up, I jumped onboard. As a workplace consultant and mediator, I knew how to facilitate difficult conversations. More importantly, I had been a part-time caregiver for both my parents. They lived apart, being divorced, and their end-of-life experiences varied. My dad died in his home, my mom spent her last 6-7 years in a continuum of care facility. Both had serious challenges dealing with the “system”. I knew nothing about support groups at the time. If I could travel back to that time, I would have done well to join a family caregiver support group.

Since being part of a support group, albeit as a facilitator, I’ve observed many things and have previously written about some of them on this blog, here and here.

10 things I’ve learned:

Circles rule. The support group format; gathering in a circle (or around a table), creating a safe and welcoming space, inviting voice and story, sharing, encouraging, etc., works.

The power is in the group. No matter who shows up at each monthly get-together, and for whatever reason; e.g., to offload a burden, get advice, socialize… the power is in the group. The group offers active listening, experience and knowledge, support, friendship… Peer support.

People are innately social. They want to connect. They want to have conversations. They want to feel community.

Facilitators are everywhere. On a good day, facilitation is easy. I have to do little other than provide a few meeting guardrails. The group participants through their constructive actions become de facto facilitators. This is wonderful to witness.

Men are emotionally intelligent, too. Yes, it’s true. In our men’s group – the conversations are just as disclosing, supportive and communicative as any co-ed group (which tend to be primarily women) I’ve facilitated.

Everyone has a story. “My brother who lives close by never helps. I do all the work looking after mom.” “My wife died two weeks ago”. “This group is the only place where I can share my story and someone will understand.”

The support group is for the caregiver. Its easy to get wrapped up in the details of caregiving, in how best one can support their loved one. Yet, the group is about the caregiver, what they need, how they can be supported. A caregiver who isn’t first managing their self-care well will find it doubly hard to look after someone else well As facilitators we sometimes lose that focus. I know I have.

Facilitators should learn from other facilitators. A community-of-practice fosters relationships, enables knowledge sharing, and strengthens the community. Everyone should have a mentor (or two). Thank you Bonnie!

Relationships are cumulative. Positive experiences in the group can include interactions between group members and/or facilitator, both inside and outside of the formal meetings. Those positive experiences add up. As they accumulate, trust is built. When trust is present, we feel psychologically safe. Authentic conversation flows.

The world is a more manageable and kinder place when we support each other. You are not alone. Support groups emblemize a collective, relational, less individualistic, way of living; a remedy to life’s challenges and  uncertainties.


  1. Good to read this post today, Ben. Thanks for sharing your insight. This also applies to other boards where volunteers work together and offer support for each other.

  2. Good observation Soren! Volunteer boards can be their own support group.

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