Ethics for Facilitators

Rows of chairsWhether you're facilitating an existing support group or starting your own, here are some tips to guide you in the process.

The Basics

  1. As a support group leader, it is your job to explain what exactly a facilitator does in the situation. Most members think that the role of a facilitator is more of an authority role, which may allow them to be influenced by the facilitator instead of see them as equal – like they are supposed to be. A facilitator's role is to be there to intervene in the group's process when they feel it is necessary, and that they are only intervening as part of your duties as a facilitator. Many facilitators tend to have a "Facilitator's Disclaimer" to use as a reference point when a member thinks you've interrupted them at a bad time.
  2. Along with being a facilitator, the members may see that you are the person who makes the decisions, and they look up to you when making the difficult decisions, which can be used for yourself or the group. Facilitators never have an easy job when it comes to making decisions, but when it is made for the overall group it can be a great skill. However, as a facilitator you shouldn't let their views of you as the person making the decisions cloud your judgement and abuse the power you have as a facilitator.
  3. When you are intervening and leading the group, facilitators that are passive, friendly, and well-meaning can manipulate people in the same ways that a facilitator that is aggressive and forceful and get away with it. As a facilitator of a support group, its part of your responsibility to not use techniques of facilitating that leads to controlling the group.
  4. If you are going to charge the members to have an opportunity to facilitate the group, you need to consider the ability of each participant to pay for it and their ability to lead the group. At the same time, it's best to get paid for the worth of your work.
  5. While you are a facilitator, you may have members that seek you for professional advice which as a facilitator you may focus on values, emotions and experiences; but it does not make you a licensed psychologist. Remember as a facilitator, they provide resources and support for citizens, but do not offer professional help about issues.
  6. If a facilitator becomes more involved with one or more members in the group, and leave out the other members, it may put a strain on the group as a whole. Make sure to maintain your neutrality during meetings and explain the difference in your behavior to the members you meet with outside of the group.
  7. Lastly, make sure to explain that your main responsibility is that the group understands what your job is within the group as their facilitator. This means you allow feedback from the members, and possibly change your approach to things based on what the members what and connect with better. The facilitator is there for the members, and the group is there to make sure you to do your role correctly.

Creating and Sustaining an Ethical Workplace Culture:

As a facilitator for a support group, you must have a safe place for members to come to participate in the group which means creating and sustaining an ethical area for it. With creating a safe place for the members, a facilitator also tends to have these skills or values when they take on the role. These values can be easier for facilitators that have the attitudes and experiences to help them create an ethical meeting space.

  1. Wisdom and Knowledge: When someone is able obtain information that they've learned in their experiences, and make it useful for the entire group is the best skill. Each person may take to heart the experience differently, but it will still produce wise decisions for each of them. Doing the right thing but knowing what to do in that situation to make it work, is the best wisdom and knowledge you can pass on.
  2. Self-Control: With this skill, you have the ability to avoid temptations and turn bad situations into good ones. This requires a commitment to acting with temperance.
  3. Justice and Fair Guidance: This has to deal with treating every member of the group with the same amount of respect and fairness as any other member. Justice is more likely to occur when an individual perceives that they will receive a fair treatment in return. This also means that leaders will respect and honor fair advice and guidance for each of their members, no matter the status.
  4. Transcendence: For facilitators this means making decisions for the group, and not just one individual. Leaders that are transcendent are less self-absorbed and have the ability to think beyond just one individual’s needs or wants.
  5. Love and Kindness: in this case, "Love" refers to showing and having a positive reaction to another member in the group.
  6. Courage and Integrity: As a facilitator, its part of the job to determine what is wrong and right in situations before them, and figure out how to act accordingly. Even when it isn't the easiest decision to make, the facilitator is the one that has to make those types of decisions for the best of the group.

Codes of Ethical Conduct:

  1. Inspirational-Idealistic: Show integrity in everything you do as a facilitator. This code of conduct works specifically with global themes like "Be honest," and "Practice wise decision making," etc. That does not mean though, that the themes are aligned with a specific behavior or situation that may arise.
  2. Regulatory: this code of conduct is supposed to help as a tool when a situation arises that needs to be looked at from two sides. It may be seen as a "Do" or "Don't" approach to situations that seem to have multiple things that could happen.
  3. Educational/Learning-Oriented: this code helps to guide facilitators with how to come to a decision and handle reactions to any situation.

With the values, actions and standards/codes - it can be a formula that can help increase the likeliness of ethical organizational behavior for the groups. Why should you apply this formula to your support group?

  1. It's the best thing for your group and its members. Everyone wants to be heard and treated with the same dignity and respect as the other members.
  2. In the long run, this influences people to speak up about their concerns and feelings about the situation or topic. This also allows the facilitator to listen to the members, and recognize their work and good behaviors.

What Determines Ethical Behavior in Public Organizations?

Researchers are noticing the beneficial outcomes from "ethical leadership," including increased willingness of employees/members to use their voice to improve the organization/group, improve greater satisfaction within the group, a sense of well-being and increased trust between the individuals. In organizations that are ethical cultured, the role as a leader is to create more of a “unified climate,” which means playing different roles at various levels all while thinking about it or the situation strategically.

According to Beeri et all. In 2013, his findings confirmed that actions of the leaders can be vital in promoting good conduct and fostering a safe ethical culture, by ensuring ways that reinforce and maintain the high standards of conduct and any problems that may arise in the organization.

In a study that Bedi, Alpaslan, and Green conducted in 2015, they found why “transactional” dimensions of the ethical leadership are more ambivalent when it comes to results compared to the transformational dimensions of ethical leadership. During this study, they found that when it came to transactional dimensions that the leaders were providing more guidance, rewarding and sanctioning then leaders who use transformational dimensions of ethical leadership. In leaders that have been there in the organization for a long period of time, they were more likely to intervene informally and steer the group’s behavior in a good way.

Characteristics of an Effective Self-Help Group Leader/Facilitator

Leaders that are most effective tend to have these characteristics when it comes to leading a group of people, but aren’t all present in every leader. Many people think that good leaders are born, not made but that isn’t always the case. Many effective leaders think that having training can help them with the task of leading a support group.

  1. Most leaders have some kind of past experience as a group leader or some kind of familiarity with handling a group of people and acting as the leader. This is useful when it comes to understanding how and why people behave in group settings like they do, and how to help the individuals that are experiencing this in a group setting. The leaders that are knowledgeable in this kind of thing also have picked up some of the skills through books or classes that help them identify what kind of leader they are and how to handle situations.
  2. When it comes to leading an effective support group it usually comes with 3 basic assumptions. 1) each member can make a contribution to the group, 2) each member is the ultimate authority on his/her needs and what will work better for him/her and 3) that communications will always be open and honest in promoting positive group experiences for everyone.
  3. An effective leader/facilitator is able to separate their personal needs from the needs of the individuals in the group they lead. If a leader is all out for themselves, it will promote their own views and needs than the groups which could lead to a strained group environment. If necessary, the leader should step out of their role when they are wanting to express their needs and opinions in those kinds of situations.
  4. When it comes to being an effective leader, you have to be enthusiastic about the goals that the group made and is willing to work towards and for their accomplishment of it. They have to see themselves as a part of the group, emotionally and physically committed to the group and its overall goals. Leaders also never stop searching and creating new ways to give members an opportunity to participate in the process or discussion and encourage the members to complete their own personal goals.
  5. Along with searching and creating new ways to engage with every member, they also need to improve and develop their responsibilities and leadership for the group. Sometimes members will not want to discuss a certain topic or what to be the first to discuss about the topic, this is where the leaders need to step up and help generate member participation.
  6. In a support group there will always be emotion, tension and conflict that are likely to arise at some point during the meetings. It is important as the leader that you are comfortable with having tension, conflict or etc. It’s helpful to have experience in this, but also be ready to expect that conflict within the group will appear during a meeting, and that the criticism will be directed towards the leader since you are the one the leading the discussion that brought on the conflict. As leader, you must learn to look at the criticism objectively and try not to take it personally, if you can.
  7. As a leader of a support group, you are also committed to the group and its member’s welfare. As a great leader, you try to create a sense of community, group cohesiveness and a consensus when you are making decisions for the group as a whole.
  8. While you must be committed to making everyone’s experience in the group beneficial and great – you also have to pay attention to individual needs and opinions as each member are their own person. They need to be seen as equals, have mutual respect and consideration for the goals and values as individuals and as a whole.
  9. Sometimes it can be too easy to focus on the negatives when you are leading a support group, but an effective leader will always try to focus on the positives – educating the members, learning successful coping strategies, supporting the others that aren’t understanding, and so on. It’s not always possible to avoid the negatives, but it can’t become the leader’s main focus.
  10. As an effective leader/facilitator it is best to encourage the members to examine the problem and think of potential solutions for their problems on their own. It isn’t up to you to make the decision for them as you aren’t that person going through the problem. As a leader, they provide the process in which members can examine and identify the options and alternatives, and receive support from the leader and other members during that time.

Six Group Leadership, Concepts, and Techniques

Group leader Qualities:

  1. Personal qualities
    1. Being warm, empathetic, positive attitude, etc.
    2. Important to communicate and share the joy of being alive
    3. Responsive and affirming with members of a support group
    4. A leader understands they are responsible for making a lot of decisions as the group progresses further.
    5. They also choose how much leading they want to do within the group.
      1. How they want intervene and when
      2. How they structure the group
      3. How to effect a successful intervention
      4. Manage the groups collective anxiety
      5. The means of resolving numerous other issues
  2. Constancy
    1. An environment with a small, infrequent changes is helpful to the members that live in an emotional turbulence constantly outside of the group setting
    2. Leaders learn to respond consistently to particular behaviors they see in their members
    3. They have clear and consistent boundaries between group meetings and seeing the members outside of the meeting
    4. Make sure to wear the same kind of clothing for each meeting such as; informal, casual or formal, etc.
  3. Active listening
    1. a keystone of any effective support group is active listening
    2. requires to perceive and understand both verbal and nonverbal cues to meaning and metaphorical levels of meaning
    3. of course leaders also need to pay attention throughout the entire meeting to each individual.
  4. Firm Identity
    1. Have a firm sense of your own identities
    2. Your identity is a clear reflection on experiences in the group
    3. Leaders who are not in control of their own emotional reactions can do more harm than good for the group and its members. Especially when they aren’t brave enough to admit their mistake and correct it for the next time.
    4. A group leader should be healthy emotionally before they take on a task like a leader for a support group
  5. Confidence
    1. Leaders must have a model of consistency that comes from self-knowledge and clarity of intent, but also stay attentive to the member’s experiences.
    2. This enables the leader to be a model of stability for the group and its members
  6. Spontaneity
    1. Effective leaders tend to be creative and flexible in any situation
    2. Acknowledge and admits when they have done something wrong, which the group members see and learn that no one has the perfect life and everyone makes mistakes.
  7. Integrity
    1. Leaders should be familiar with the institutions policies, laws and regulations when they are wanting to start a support group and maintain it.
    2. Must have a clear standard of conduct and be able to keep an ethical stand point during the meetings
  8. Trust
    1. The leaders of the support group should be able to trust each other, and the members should be able to trust the leaders themselves.
    2. It restores the faith in many of group members and the trust in themselves and their fellow neighbors and friends.
  9. Humor
    1. Should be able to have a great sense of humor to be able to lead a support group
    2. It is part of therapy and makes a huge difference in the members when the leader has a great sense of humor during the meetings and discussions
    3. But as leaders you must know when the appropriate time arises to use your sense of humor. So it doesn’t offend or wound anyone that is sensitive about the topic of discussion.
  10. Empathy
    1. One of the cornerstones for a successful group treatment for any kind of situations.
    2. It’s the ability to identify someone else’s feelings while remaining aware that the feelings of others are distinct from one’s own.
    3. “Identification is the antidote to loneliness, to the feeling of estrangement that seems inherent in the human condition” (Ormont 1992, p. 147).
    4. The ability to project empathy is an essential skill in being a successful and effective leader.
    5. The leader should be able to model empathic interaction for the group members.

The leader should be aware of the differing personalities of the group members, while constantly looking at common themes in the group. Group agreements can actually give the members of the group a sense of clarity and definition, which makes it an essential thing to have for group safety. However, it could be unethical not to bend the rules to meet the needs of an individual when it is needed. Example: group rules may say that failure to call in before an absence from group is cause for reporting the infraction to a referring agency. If a member shows that an unavoidable emergency occurred and prevented them from calling in, the group leader may agree that the absence does not need to be reported. Leaders should always be aware of the power that groups can have a dark side at some point. The desire to belong can become so strong for an individual that it can cause the individual to act rash and go against the ethics of that the leader may have set for the group. Thus, the leader needs to be aware of the possibility and monitor the group sharing to make sure that each member is protected and do not allow themselves to be drawn into a situation that may harm the individual or any other member. As the group facilitator, it is their responsibility to also challenge the group’s conclusions or recommendations when they do not allow an individual to their own rights and privacy that may lead to serious consequences for the group.