Boundaries in Support Groups


Contributor: Lyle Fried, CAP, ICADC, CHC, CEO at The Shores Treatment and Recovery (Click the banner to learn more)

Group of friendsThe goal of any support group is to provide a safe and encouraging environment for those in recovery to thrive. Although our stories and experiences may be different, there is the common theme of recovery driving each meeting.

If we are open, there is something that can be gained by coming together with the mindset of transparency and tolerance for others. Support groups can also provide a sense of belonging and a community atmosphere.

On the other hand, support groups are made up of us…and we are just people, flawed and fallible. Because of this, it’s important for support groups to have two sets of boundaries: those set down by the facilitator as well as those that involve the person-to-person interactions.

Facilitator Support Group Boundaries

Many recovery support groups have rotating or continuously changing facilitators. The main responsibility of the facilitator is to ensure that the group is run in an orderly fashion, allowing each individual to share while observing the common courtesies and guidelines already established.

This would seem pretty simple, until you consider the wide range of personalities or moods that may be encountered in a support group setting. From dominant sharers to the extremely timid, from angry, injured, or anxious attendees to the joyful and hopeful.

Quick Tips for Setting Boundaries

Friends Meeting in City SquareAnd, from newcomer to the seasoned attender, it is vital for the health and growth of the group for the leader to have healthy boundaries in place. Here are some quick tips to consider:

    • It’s easier to set boundaries (such as 5 minute time limits for sharing) in the beginning of the meeting than to try to reel someone in 10 minutes into their story.


    • Ideally, facilitators will view the group as a whole entity and protect the health of the group by quickly addressing situations that may arise, such as tardiness, talking, texting, or anything else that could be distracting or cause the sharer to feel less important or valuable.
    • Compassion toward the newcomer is vital for the health of any support group.
    • Coming prepared for the meeting, with responsibilities delegated and topic or reading material ready. This sets the tone for a healthy meeting and sends the message that “this is important” and “you are valuable.” When others feel valued, crossing boundaries can often be avoided. Remember, everything flows from the leader downward.
  • The ability to quickly assess the overall atmosphere of the room and guide the flow. This takes time and practice. Ideally, the facilitator should be able to keep time, topic and courtesy boundaries in mind while allowing the meeting to progress naturally. The attendee who just needs to share about a recent fear or situation will often be balanced out by the wisdom of someone with a deeper insight or experience. Everyone has something to offer.

Peer-to-Peer Support Group Boundaries

Boundaries are essential to healthy relationships. In a support group setting, there will be a wide range of expectations as to what relationships between group members should look like, both inside and outside of the group setting. While some will want to build community and personal relationships with other support group members, others will not.

By taking the following boundaries into consideration, all group attendees can play an active part in maintaining the health and growth of the group:

    • Always respect anonymity. Although you may have an overwhelming desire to acknowledge Mike when you notice him in the supermarket with his family, he may or may not want to explain how or where he knows you from. Always assume each member wishes to remain completely anonymous, unless you are instructed otherwise by that individual.
    • Set and maintain your own healthy boundaries by thinking situations through before acting on them impulsively. Friendships, romantic relationships, providing monetary help, and other situations can be tricky. By knowing where you stand beforehand, you won’t be as likely to fall into decisions you may regret later.
  • The confidentiality boundary is vital to develop trust among members. Many recovery meetings address this specifically at the end of each meeting by saying, “What you hear here, let it stay here.” Even if this is not verbalized, be aware that it is key to the success of the group you are a part of. And, it is actually a federal law, and in many locations a state law as well.

Growing as a Whole and as Individuals

Studious Woman Writing SomethingRegardless of the boundaries that you set, keep in mind that every group has its unique joys as well as potential problems. The goal is always to grow as a whole and also as individuals.

If you are involved in a support group with family members, roommates, or others who may hinder you from truly sharing your struggles and experiences, don’t be afraid to visit other support groups until you find the perfect fit for you.

Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!

Finding the right fit in a support group is important for your recovery. What steps have you taken to find the right fit in a support group?

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addiction. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on March 21st, 2015
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