Exploring the impact of training on the experience of Australian support group leaders: current practices and implications for research

Health Expect. 2010 Dec;13(4):427-40. doi: 10.1111/j.1369-7625.2010.00592.x.


Background: Existing literature suggests that the effectiveness of a support group is linked to the qualifications, skills and experience of the group leader. Yet, little research has been conducted into the experiences of trained vs. untrained support group leaders of chronic-illness support groups. The current study aimed to compare the experience of leaders, trained vs. untrained in group facilitation, in terms of challenges, rewards and psychological wellbeing.

Methods: A total of 358 Australian leaders of cancer and multiple sclerosis (MS) support groups, recruited through State Cancer Councils and the MS society (response rate of 66%), completed a mailed survey.

Results: Compared with untrained leaders, those with training were significantly younger, leading smaller groups and facilitating more groups, more frequently (all P < 0.05). Trained leaders were more likely to be female, educated beyond high school, paid to facilitate, a recipient of formal supervision and more experienced (in years) (all P < 0.01). Untrained leaders reported more challenges than trained leaders (P < 0.03), particularly struggling with being contacted outside of group meetings (52%) and a lack of leadership training (47%). Regardless of level of training, leaders identified a number of unmet support and training needs. Overwhelmingly, leaders found their facilitation role rewarding and the majority reported a high level of psychological wellbeing.

Conclusions: Group facilitator training has the potential to reduce the burden of support group leadership. Developing interventions to assist support group leaders will be particularly beneficial for leaders with minimal or no training group facilitation training.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Australia
  • Data Collection
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Inservice Training*
  • Leadership*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Multiple Sclerosis / psychology
  • Neoplasms / psychology
  • Personal Satisfaction
  • Program Evaluation
  • Self-Help Groups*