We run a variety of sessions to meet the various needs of our members. Because all of our members are at different levels with their progress through social anxiety, it is important that some of our sessions are more challenging than others. Our stand and speak sessions are probably the most challenging, but they are still accessible to all members as people are welcome to just stay as a members of the audience. We have briefly described below what goes on in each of our sessions. Generally the sessions should be thought of as a self-help resource where we provide the setting, structure and sometimes information, but members need to take their own steps.
Most of our sessions (unless stated below) start and finish in the same way and so first we shall explain these parts and why we include them. Facilitators will coordinate and initiate these steps as the session progresses.
Sessions start with the facilitator asking for a volunteer to read out some reminders about our rules and guidelines to the group. No one is pressured to do this and if no one volunteers the facilitator will read them. This is an opportunity for you to practice reading and talking in front of a group, if that is something you wish to work on. It is also an opportunity for members to play a more active role within the group.
After the rules and guidelines have been read, every one is then given an opportunity to say literally one or two words about how they are currently feeling. All the members first names will be written on small bits of paper and then a volunteer is asked to pick names out at random to give people an opportunity to say how they feel. You are free to just say you will pass if you do not wish to say anything. Some members will also use the opportunity to say a little about their day or week during this exercise. If no one volunteers to pick out the names then the facilitator will do it. Again, this is an opportunity for someone to practice speaking in front of the group. The main purpose of the exercise is that once people have said one or two words in front of the group, they are usually able to relax slightly and that will help them participate more during the session. Also, it is important for everyone to know how other people in the group are feeling. It can be beneficial for members to know they are not the only one in the room who is struggling and members and facilitators can know who might need extra support or sensitivity during the session. The exercise is also beneficial on an individual basis as it helps people identify and express their feelings.
After the round of feelings, the names on bits of paper are used again to randomly split people off into pairs and another volunteer is asked for to pick out the pairs and read them out to the group. As usual, the facilitator will perform this task if no one volunteers. As most people find talking in the large group anxiety provoking, we often split into pairs or small groups. Talking in pairs lasts approximately 10-15 minutes and it is an opportunity for you to get to know someone else in the group better and talk about your social anxiety with someone who very likely understands what you are going through. Pairs will usually spread out and use the space available so they can talk in private. When the time is up, the facilitator will come around and gather the group back together. We ask that what is said within pairs or small groups stays confidential within those pairs or small groups. If you do not wish to talk in pairs then please let the facilitator know at any time.
When the group has come back together, the facilitator will give out any important messages and inform people of what sessions are coming up. They will also ask the members if they have any messages of their own. Typical messages include changes within the group and what social events are currently being organised outside of the group sessions. People may also share details of events or courses they are going on that might interest other members.
The group will then continue with the main part of the session as detailed below under the frequent and infrequent headings.
After the main part of the session, the end of the session is very similar to the start of the session but in reverse. The closing round is the same as the opening round, except members will often choose to express how they feel differently from how they did at the start of the session and may briefly say how they found the session. Usually people feel more relaxed towards the end of the session and so this a good opportunity to speak within a group of people. It is also a way for members to get closure on the session and say anything they wanted say to but felt unable to earlier in the session. We can only evolve the group based on your feedback, so please be honest if you did not like something about the session. If you only want to say literally one or two words about how you feel then that is okay, as is wanting to pass and not say anything at all.
To finish the session, a volunteer is asked for to read out some reminders for the group. This is mainly about keeping what you have heard in the group confidential and it also includes a reminder to leave donations in the tin on your way out if you wish to. The session is then finished and often some of the members will go to a local cafe or pub to carry on chatting. Everyone is invited to this, but not everyone joins in.
These are probably one of the easiest sessions for members to get involved in. We have a set topic that relates to social anxiety and a volunteer randomly picks out groups of 4-6 people. These groups then discuss the topic together. A sheet of questions is provided to help people focus on the topic in a useful way. You can take part in the discussions as much or as little as you wish to. Examples of topics might include relationships, physical anxiety symptoms or the workplace.
To provide a more social setting and help members have fun within the group, we hold games sessions. Typically, these consist of playing board games in small groups, but occasionally we will play a game as a whole group. We have some of our own games, but encourage members to bring their own. Members get to choose which game they want to play. Examples of games we have played in the past include Boggle, Pictionary, Cranium, Charades and Uno.
These sessions provide opportunities to build up confidence with public speaking. However, as with all our sessions, if you do not want to speak then there is no pressure to take part and you are welcome to watch others speak as a member of the audience. These sessions are a great way to boost confidence, especially if you have a public speaking phobia. They are presented as an opportunity to gain confidence with standing up and speaking to a group of people in a supportive environment where it does not matter if you make mistakes or look anxious. During these sessions we change the room layout to be more typical of a public speaking setting and you are given the opportunity to do things like read the rules, say your opening and closing one or two words and read a session introduction standing in front of the group. We make it acceptable for you to do these things sitting down or pass on the activity if you prefer. In main part of the session, everyone who wants to do public speaking puts their name in a bowl and then the facilitator will call those people up to speak in a random order. Each talk is typically about 5 minutes and people do many things including telling a bit of their personal story of social anxiety, reading a poem, reading from book, describing something in the room or just saying how they feel standing in front of everyone. After a person has spoken they are offered the chance to get some feedback from the other members if they wish to. Remember, you are welcome to attend these sessions and just watch if you want to see what they are like before having a go yourself.
We hold a regular social on the last Thursday of the month at a pub in the city centre instead of having a group session. Socials or not facilitated or lead in any way, although we often have a social secretary who helps organise them. People come to them to get out of the house and get to know other members better. Some people just have drinks while others will have some food there too. We ask that you attend a group session first before attending a social so you know who to look for and other people within the group are familiar with you. Our members also arrange a large variety of other social outings that are usually open to all members. These include anything from bowling, the cinema, DVD nights, walks and meals out, to camping trips, visits to london, meditation, dancing and boat trips. There is also an email group you can join when you attend a session which is a way to find out about everything that is going on.
We always like to see new members join our groups so we have a special type of session just for them. These sessions start and finish in the normal way, except our facilitators take extra care to explain each part of the session and why we do it. For the main part of the session we will typically stay as a whole group at first while the opportunity is given for our existing members (and new members if they wish) to share their own experiences of social anxiety and what living with it is like for them. We then split off into smaller groups to do more of the same. We find that people get a great deal out of these sessions and the identification that happens helps new members feel accepted and not so alone with their challenges. New members also find it helpful to join the group when there will likely be other new members there. Sharing sessions are the same as the new member's sessions although we encourage people to attend the sessions specifically called new member's sessions so it is unlikely that they are the only new person there. Topic sessions are a good alternative if you wish to start with a different type of session. New members are given information on overcoming social anxiety as well as other potentially useful information. New members and sharing sessions are sometimes themed around a topic relevant to social anxiety.
If you are struggling to know what to do to move forward, have hit a barrier, or are just starting to tackle your social phobia then this session is a chance to understand your anxiety better and learn some steps that might be helpful. In these sessions a facilitator will give a talk on a subject related to understanding and overcoming social phobia. If time allows, there will be an opportunity to discuss what you have heard in small groups or ask questions.
The sessions in the women only group are currently run the same as topic sessions but may vary in their structure a little. These sessions always have female facilitators.