February 16, 2008

The Support Group Approach - Interview with Sue Young

© 2008, Coert Visser & Sue Young

Sue Young now divides her time between behaviour support to schools and training in solution focused practice. She advocates using solution-focused thinking to encourage success at every level in schools. Her initiatives include implementing national policies across schools, helping local staff encourage positive behaviours in their students and giving support to individual children and parents. One of Sue’s particular interests is promoting an anti-bullying ethos. In the mid-ninties, she developed the support group approach for responding to incidents of bullying. Later she discovered how well her approach fitted with solution focused thinking and ever since, has been applying solution focused principles to all areas of her work. So, what is the support group approach and how does it work? Is it hard to do? How does it help? Find answers to these questions and more in this interview.

COERT: Hi Sue, could you explain, for readers who haven't heard about it yet, what the support group approach is?

SUE: Briefly, the support group approach is a solution focused strategy for resolving complaints of bullying, particularly in primary schools. I think it is a good example of a ‘solution key’ (de Shazer) because the simplicity of the intervention enables it to fit a wide range of circumstances. The child who is upset is interviewed to find out who they are finding difficult to cope with at the moment, who else is around when they find things difficult and who is (are) their friend(s). They are not asked for any information about what has been happening. The child is reassured that things will begin to get better and told that a group of children, chosen from the names they have given, will be asked to help. The child is asked to notice anything that gets better so they can tell you about it when you review after a week. A support group is made up from these names, ideally 5-8 children. The group is seen separately and simply asked to help with the aim of making the target child happy in school. No explanation is given about why the child may be unhappy. It is important that whoever leads the interviewing does not use the word ‘bullying’ at all and tries to leave behind any judgement about what has been happening. They are asked for suggestions of small things they might try and an arrangement is made to review what they have managed to do a week later.

COERT: Okay, and what happens one week later in the review meetings with the bullied child and in the meeting with the support group?

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