PHI Spark (No. 5)


Thank you for all that you give to others as a post-polio support group leader!

Create a Positive Exchange: Invite Members to Share at an Open Discussion Meeting

An "open discussion" meeting is a great method of encouraging members to participate. Often a shy member may be nudged into the discussion once they see it is a "safe place" to discuss long ago memories. According to Karen Lee Richards, Patient Advocate at Health Central, if everyone feels accepted and heard, "People enjoy sharing their challenges and learning how others are dealing with similar problems. Group members are free to discuss what most concerns them.” The members will get to know each other, which binds the group together and strengthens friendships and trust.

An open discussion meeting requires some pre-planning for the leader to ensure success and to be certain that the meeting does not spiral out of control. It will adapt easily to the Zoom format or an in-person meeting. The following outline will provide you with a simple blueprint for a successful meeting.

1. Choose a topic. An interesting and popular one is "Historical Tidbits from the Polio Experience." Ask members to come prepared to share one unique thing they remember from the old days when they had polio. Support group members enjoy hearing about the stories of other polio survivors. They can relate. Times were so different during the polio epidemics. When people begin to reveal how it was for them in a bygone era, it sparks people’s interest and often jogs the memory of other survivors who then want to share their experience with others. At this point, your meeting will be off and running!

Another closely related topic is "Sharing Our Adaptation Challenges and Solutions." For example ask members to be ready to share, “How did you adapt rooms and items around your home to make things more accessible?” Or, “What are some tricks you’ve used for traveling with a disability?”

2. Whatever topic you choose, be certain the discussion stays positive, that everyone is invited to speak, and that the group conversation stays on goal. Caution! We all know that sometimes a structured discussion can devolve into focusing only on problems, instead of solutions. Then the meeting becomes the proverbial “pity party” and the group can get stuck in a swirl of negativity.

Remember, it is not the job of the facilitator to solve mental health issues or give medical solutions for individual problems unless they have in-depth medical training and experience. If a recurring source of angst comes up during the group discussion, that is a great opportunity for the support group leader to search for a speaker for the next meeting that can address the issue specifically.

3. Announce this open discussion meeting and topic in advance. This gives members time to think about something they remember. You might invite them to locate a photo or artifact that they can bring to the meeting to share with others. As the leader, be prepared with either some historical facts, personal recollection or challenge of your own to share, in case the members are reluctant to start.

4. Just being in the support group promotes self-esteem and hope. Therefore, never support helplessness or hopelessness. Strive for encouraging everyone to be good listeners--validating feelings and interpersonal support and the notion that "you are not alone in what you are feeling or physically experiencing." Listening well and sharing, with a healthy dose of group compassion, will make for a successful meeting experience. For a little inspiration, may want to check out

Has your group thought about becoming a PHI Association Member? There would be immediate benefits. Learn more here.

Have you seen and shared? Warning for COVID Long Haulers From Polio Survivors

Let us know how you are, what your group is interested in, and what your group is doing. We want to hear from you. Contact