Faith Support Groups
In response to questions about how to start and conduct a faith-related mental health support group, NAMI FaithNet has collected descriptions of several spirituality/faith-related support groups as examples. We are aware that many more excellent faith-related groups meet regularly and could have been included. NAMI FaithNet does not sponsor or endorse any particular model or type of spirituality group but encourages the interchange of ideas. Each group described here has sprung up independently to fulfill a need in that community. The “models” are not intended as the best or only way of conducting such groups, but do offer examples of the “what, when, where and how.” Individual NAMI members who are passionate about the integration of faith and mental wellness started most of the groups. Most have a connection to their local NAMI affiliate, but the groups are not necessarily sponsored by their affiliate. Some groups are sponsored by or meet in a church; one sprung up in a Community Mental Health Center that realized the relevance of faith to recovery. Facilitator’s contact information is current as of May 2013.
For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or the NAMI Help Line at 703-524-7600.
CROSS Ministries (Christians Reaching Out in Support & Sharing) - Lexington, Kentucky
Faith and Fellowship Support Group - Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago
Hope’s Nest - Trinity United Presbyterian Church, Santa Ana, CA
Mental Health Family Support Group - St. George Episcopal Church, San Antonio, TX
MISS Support Group (Mental Illness Spiritual Support Group) - Toledo, OH
Spirituality Support Group - Adult and Child Behavioral Health, Indianapolis, IN
Spiritual Support Group for Mental Health & Wellness - Boulder, CO
Caring for the Soul Support Group - Cambridge, MA
CROSS Ministries (Christians Reaching Out in Support & Sharing).
Sponsoring Organization: A United Methodist Church in Lexington, KY made space available; former facilitator was President of NAMI Lexington, Angie O’Maley, MSW, MFT.
Purpose: To share our story and struggles, to give and receive comfort and encouragement, and to receive God’s perspective and peace. Disclaimer: this is not a therapy group or intended to replace professional or in-depth counseling.
Invitees: The support group members were persons who had a diagnosis of a mental illness or were family members.
Frequency and Length of Meeting: First, third and fifth Monday evenings, including holidays, since these often are the people who have little or no family support. The maximum length is 90 minutes. Important: start and end on time. Facilitator must help group stay within set time limits, so that people will continue coming. When they know they won’t be kept too long or too late by uncontrolled discussion and sharing, they’ll trust the leader enough to commit to an evening regularly.
Description of Meeting: Group of about 15 met in the lounge of the church, using chairs and a sofa in a circle. No refreshments were served except on special occasions. This made it simpler to run and more to the point. Facilitator welcomed people as they arrived, and had them use nametags (first names) because new people would arrive occasionally. Nametags made them feel part of the group sooner.
Welcome & opening prayer by facilitator
Devotional (5 min.) offered by one of the group. This responsibility was passed around to various attendees. They could read a favorite scripture verse and tell what it meant to them, a poem, or a short inspirational excerpt.
Summarize Goals: (Facilitator reads purpose described above)
Sharing Time: (Facilitator explains:) Each person shares briefly their name, and what’s going on since group met last, (4-5 min. each, depending on number present, triumphs, challenges, needs, and concerns). Newcomer’s give name and either share briefly or pass. After everyone has shared, special attention may briefly be given to one or two in most need of encouragement or support.
Closing Prayer Time: Sharing of thanksgiving and requests. All may take notes if they wish, but one-person prayers for all the concerns mentioned. This person is asked in advance if they are willing to lead in prayer. No one is put on the spot.
Comments: Brochures describing the group are distributed through the community, the churches and NAMI affiliates.
Faith and Fellowship Support Group
Sponsoring Organization: Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago
Purpose: The purpose of Faith and Fellowship is to provide faith experiences in a way suited to the needs of persons with a mental illness within the context of a small community of believers and to offer opportunities for integration into the life and activities of the parish community. People with mental illness are often socially isolated and even feel isolated from God. Faith and Fellowship is a ministry where persons with a mental illness can experience the love of Gods and their sisters and brothers
Invitees: Faith and Fellowship groups consist of ten to 15 adults including approximately equal numbers of persons with a mental illness and volunteers from local churches.
Frequency & Place: They meet semi-weekly as partners in prayer and socialization.
Description of Meeting: The meetings feature:
A time for prayer
A time for quietly shared activities
A time for a reflection on the meeting theme
A time for Agape (fellowship)
Contact: Connie Rakitan
Sponsoring Organization: Trinity United Presbyterian Church, Santa Ana, California
Purpose: The purpose of Hope’s Nest is to provide a welcome and spiritually nourishing environment, which benefits attendees far beyond just being accepted and having the opportunity to contribute. Its reinforces the understanding that God is with us, even in our most difficult times
Invitees: It is a support group for those living with a mental illness. Four members from the church also attend. Although it is given from a Christian perspective, all religions are respected and those of all faiths are welcome.
Frequency & Place: It meets the first Sunday of each month at 12:30-2 pm in the church fellowship hall or a Sunday school room.
Description of Meeting: Attendees greet one another and help themselves to food provided by the Disabilities Committee of the church. We gather in a circle of chairs and read the guidelines of Hope’s Nest. Then ask each person to give their name and briefly state how well they are dealing with their mental health issues on this day. During the next twenty minutes we discuss a topic from the Bible, led by one of the attendees who has volunteered to do so. One example of our discussion is one of the attributes found in “The Fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22-23), and its application in their lives.
After a 10-minute break, the group begins a time of sharing. Each person is given the opportunity to describe their high and low points plus a description of something positive they did for someone during the previous month. After sharing, each person has the option of asking for “feedback” from others. Frequently, the feedback includes reference to a Biblical passage, which will give comfort. Tears, prayer and laughter are all important parts of this discussion.
Prayer requests are written on cards throughout the meetings and are placed in a basket. When the gathering has concluded, attendees can take a card home to include the request in their prayers during the following month.
Comments: In a recent questionnaire, attendees’ responses to the question, “What meaning does Hope’s Nest have for you?” included: “I found fellowship”..... “an opportunity to problem solve” .... “a place to talk about issues not discussed in any other church group” ... “.to see that other Christians do experience mental illness just like me” .... “find hope .... “being with people with many of my same problems and being able to openly discuss them” .... “finding I am closer to God” .... “knowing that what I say will not be judged, but accepted” .... “gain understanding and support”... “finding a Phone Pal” ... “discovering that people with a mental illness diagnosis can be healthy and live happy lives.”
Susan and Gunnar Christiansen, NAMI California
Mental Health Family Support group
Sponsoring Organization: St. George Episcopal Church, San Antonio, TX
Purpose: Our purpose is to offer a safe place to gather for people dealing with mental illness, a prayerful environment, and a place for sharing each other's feelings, problems, needs, etc.
Invitees: Over-comers/Copers (people living with mental illness); Family, Friends, People of all Faiths; Average in 2012 was ten people, only two from my church.
Frequency & Place: St. George Episcopal Church; every second Wednesday of the month;
7-8:30 PM; Conference room in office building
Description of Meeting: Beverages and cookies furnished by the facilitator (normally no speaker). But first three months of 2013 we did; we may continue in the future.
Fellowship, gathering time & Introductions: 10-15 minutes
Serving/ Eating Food: During the meeting at will
Educational Component: 10-20 minutes.
Devotions/Readings: 5-10 minutes
Prayer and Sharing: 45 minutes to one hour. We pray before we start and at the end for each person sharing that night.
Closing: 5-10 minutes
Publicity: Our electronic church newsletter, e-Spear, comes out weekly and lists all programs for the week. Sunday bulletins show future offerings of meetings. Press releases to 25 media outlets including newspapers, radio and TV. There is a poster in the hallway of the parish hall area. The Express-News paper publishes a notice most Mondays.
Comments: We have helped several people in major ways and most of them continue to come.
Contact: Jerry Fulenwider: email@example.com
Mental Illness Spiritual Support Group (MISS)
Sponsoring Organization: NAMI Toledo, OH
Purpose: Based on National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) principles, these groups focus on truth about mental illness with a sprinkling of prayer and scripture encouragement. Aim is to have a more positive, joyful life despite challenges of a misunderstood disease.
Invitees: Both Consumers and Loved Ones; three to six people usually attend
Frequency & Place: Weekly Thurs evenings, 7 to 8:30 pm; church conference room; No funding necessary—accommodations provided by church.
Description of Meeting: No food provided but members can bring snack for self if desired.
Fellowship, gathering time
Introductions and reading of NAMI Support Group guidelines. (The group added their own supporting scripture verses)
Prayer and Sharing
Resources: NAMI E-news, FaithNet articles, National Catholic Partnership on Disabilities Mental Illness Networks, Guidebook for Overcomers Outreach 12 Step Support Groups by Bob and Pauline Bartosch adapted to emotional problems, Serenity, A Companion for Twelve Step Recovery Complete with New Testament Psalms and Proverbs, Today in the Word Daily Devotional by Moody Bible Institute, Chicago, IL, Joyce Meyer Enjoying Everyday Life articles
Publicity: I do networking for publicity by posting notices at libraries, churches, giving info to service agencies, serving on Mental Health Council for Toledo Area Ministries emphasizing spiritual support groups, work with Toledo Catholic diocesan office for equal access ministries mental illness network to plan mental health retreat for all faiths, give info re e-mail group and blog to church groups and other outreach ministries, volunteer at Pastoral Care office of local hospital and give info re mental illness spiritual support group
Contact: Judy Beckman: JudithBeckman@peoplepc.com or www.divinecare.gather.com
Spirituality Support Group
Sponsoring Organization: Adult and Child Behavioral Care (A Community Mental Health Center)
Purpose: Consumers have a forum to discuss/dialogue the spiritual piece of their recovery journey. Several consumers voice the value of having this forum to speak frankly/openly about their spirituality. This part of recovery has been neglected/minimized for some who are diagnosed with severe/persistent mental health issues.
Invitees: Clients of the Center, Consumers of Mental Health Services; All are welcome, from any faith or non-faith background
Frequency & Place: Weekly, Tuesdays, 2-3 pm. We meet year-round, except on holidays, in one of the activity rooms at the Center.
Description of Meeting: No food is served. We gather in a circle of chairs; on occasion we have an educational component or speaker; but the consumers themselves take a lead by introducing information/experiences; about 8-12 people attend
Fellowship, gathering time & Introductions: 5 minutes
Serving and Eating Food: N/A
Educational Component: 45 minutes
Devotions/Readings: 5 minutes
Prayer and Sharing: 45 minutes of sharing-the sharing is mostly the consumers relating information/experiences
Other Comments: Other recommended resources, workbooks or curricula:
Spirituality, Values and Mental Health (Coyte/Gilbert/Nicholls),
Spirituality and Mental Health Care (Swinton), “
Wrestling with our Inner Angels” (Kehoe)…
Other resources include books, music, etc. that consumers bring, that they found helpful.
Publicity: We publicize the group through internal communications; it is only for consumers enrolled in our mental health center.
Spiritual Support Group for Mental Health & Wellness
Sponsoring Organization: First Congregational Church, UCC, 1128 Pine St. Boulder, CO 80302
Invitees: Over-comers/copers (people living with mental illness); Family, Friends, others; those of any faith and those of no faith
Frequency & Place: 5-12 people meet twice a month, on the 2nd and the 4th Monday, year ‘round except Christmas Eve; for 1.5 hours in the lounge of the church. Group has met for four years, nonstop
Description of Meeting: Ritual of opening, sharing a snapshot of how a person is, and closing. A four- page detailed description can be obtained from firstname.lastname@example.org. Two facilitators at each meeting.
Fellowship, gathering time & Introductions: Use of guidelines (seven min) and ritual (four min)
Serving/ Eating Food (throughout the meeting) Members bring water, tea, and snacks.
Educational Component -None specified, it occurs during the conversation
Devotions/Readings - Occasional short readings two min
Sharing - the bulk of the meeting
Closing - three min
Other Comments: Our church has had a Mental Health Ministry for almost seven years. This Support Group is one of the on-going programs. Over time, everyone in our church of 850 members knows about the group and many have suggested it to others. Local newspaper ads bring other people too.
Resources, workbooks or curricula: NAMI Boulder CO, Interfaith Network on Mental Illness
Publicity: church newsletter and local paper
Most valuable outcome from this group. The supportive, sacred, safe space encourages people to be open to talk and to listen.
Testimonies about the support group experience. As one of six who are “trained” to facilitate, I find this one of the most significant groups in which I participate. It gives people affected by mental illness a chance to speak and to hear others. Over the four years, we have seen many name this group as one of the most important groups in their recovery.
Contact Person: The Rev. Alan Johnson: email@example.com
Caring for the Soul Support Group
Sponsoring Organization: St. Paul's Catholic Church, Cambridge MA
Invitees: People living with mental illness, family, friends and others; 10-15 people of all faiths attend
Frequency & Place: Once a month on the second Monday, 5:30-7:00 PM (1.5 hours); year round; we meet in one of the choir school rooms
Description of Meeting:
Fellowship, gathering time & Introductions: 10-15 min. depending on size of group
Serving/Eating Food: (before and during) Members bring snack food and beverages
Educational Component: None specified, but it occurs during the conversation
Devotions/Readings: we begin with a poem or reading
Prayer and Sharing: prayer is not the focus
Closing: We end by passing around a wooden cross; each one is invited to say something in relation to the meetings
Publicity: Through NAMI; also one of the members puts the notice in the parish bulletin and sends e-mails
Most valuable outcome from this group: Sharing among family members, those who live with mental illness and interested others; a level of trust that has developed over five years.
Testimonies about the support group experience. "This has become a life-giving group for me." "The level of trust and sharing always moves me deeply." "I have seen huge changes in group members."
Other Comments: The group has met faithfully for five years; there is a huge commitment to it on the part of the members and a deep sense of connection.
Contact: Nancy Kehoe, RSCP, PH.D: firstname.lastname@example.org