Effectively Running Groups

Posted on August 13,2013 by latinomentalhealth

Hola from Ecuador!

There are only a few days left here and I cannot believe how fast the time has passed. It seemed like just yesterday we arrived in Guayaquil and were adjusting to our new homes. Throughout the past three weeks I have learned a lot, both clinically and culturally. What sticks out to me the most about my time in Ecuador has been the ‘charlas’ that we have given at our sites. Here in Ecuador charla is pretty much a presentation and discussion about a specific topic. While there were occasional difficulties with language barriers throughout the charlas, the main point I am taking home with me this summer is the importance of engaging the audience. At both Fundacion VIDHA and Maternidad Sotomayor each charla involved group participation and the atmosphere was light hearted.

Observing the groups at VIDHA through their program Cuanto Sabes? really drove home the importance of making the charla fun. In this program students from various schools come to VIDHA for a series of group sessions in which they learn about HIV, AIDS, and how to speak to an audience. At the end of the program the students are to take the new information and share it with their friends, family, etc to further educate others. As I have not had much experience in the past with group dynamics I was curious to see how the leader at VIDHA, Fernando, would command the attention of 15 middle schoolers while insuring retention of the information they were teaching. Fernando easily elicited their attention and I found myself constantly laughing alongside the students at his jokes. In many ways it seemed as if we were watching a comedian as Fernando made light of various topics and made jokes with the students throughout. It was incredibly light hearted and it was easy to forget that we were discussing HIV and AIDS, topics that seem heavy on the surface. Fernando used comedy as a way to make the students feel comfortable and they increasingly participated in the conversations as time progressed. It also seemed as if the students were retaining a great deal of the information taught and were more actively engaging with the material.

As I return to the United States I am bringing back a greater sense of leading groups and the importance of stressing entertainment alongside psychoeducation. I hope that I am able to use the tools I observed at VIDHA in my future work with children, especially middle schoolers who can be difficult to engage at times. It can be easy to overly stress psychoeducation with groups when in reality more information is retained if the atmosphere feels more enjoyable. I’m not sure if I will be able to be quite as funny as Fernando in leading groups, but I am certainly going to incorporate more entertainment and light hearted fun in my future clinical work.

Hasta Luego,
Rebecca T.