Periodically I am asked about the value of peer support groups for those who have experienced workplace bullying or mobbing. Although such groups exist, I have not participated in one. However, I have given this topic much thought over the years and read into a number of resources that shed some light on the potential benefits and downsides of peer support. Furthermore, during the past 20 years, I have had countless exchanges with targets of workplace bullying and mobbing, and these discussions have yielded invaluable insights as well.
With all this in mind, I decided to gather together some resources and suggestions that may be useful to those who are participating in peer support groups for targets, especially those who are organizing and facilitating them.
Training/expertise in peer support group facilitation
Good intentions alone are not sufficient for creating a peer support group, especially given the deep and complicated emotions and consequences of bullying and mobbing at work. Rather, it’s extremely useful to get some expert guidance. A lot of that information is provided in the mental health context.
The best short, accessible, and free(!) guide for mental health peer support groups that I’ve found is Michelle Funk & Natalie Drew, Peer support groups by and for people with lived experience (2019) (pdf link here), published by the World Health Organization. In only 28 pages, this excellent guide provides a wealth of helpful advice and guidance on creating, facilitating, and participating in peer support groups. It also contains a rich reference list for those who want to learn more.
Mental Health America provides a Center for Peer Support (link here) with an array of valuable resources. For those who seek more formal training in peer support, MHA offers a national certification program (link here).
Training/expertise in workplace bullying/mobbing/abuse
Especially for group facilitators, but really for any participant, gaining expertise in the dynamics and impacts of workplace bullying and mobbing is very important towards understanding how to support one another and finding ways to move forward.
One important starting place is the Workplace Bullying Institute (link here), founded by Drs. Gary and Ruth Namie, whose website is a treasure trove of helpful information. WBI offers abundant resources for bullying targets (link here) and has also created SafeHarbor (link here), an active and engaged community “dedicated to the people affected by workplace bullying and those devoted to helping them.”
Linda Crockett, a social worker and WBI affiliate, has created the Canadian Institute of Workplace Bullying Resources (link here). Among other things, she offers training and workshops for those who want to build their expertise.
Also, I worked with the American Psychological Association’s Center for Organizational Excellence to create a deep webpage of resources on workplace bullying (link here). Although mainly for employers, this site contains useful information for anyone interested in workplace bullying.
I have recommended a “go-to” list of four affordable books for targets of workplace bullying and mobbing (link here):
- Gary Namie & Ruth Namie, The Bully at Work (2d ed. 2009);
- Maureen Duffy & Len Sperry, Overcoming Mobbing: A Recovery Guide for Workplace Aggression and Bullying (2014);
- Bessel van der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma (2014); and,
- William Bridges, Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes (2004).
For those seeking an encyclopedic, authoritative, but concededly pricey, resource on workplace bullying and mobbing here in the U.S., I’m happy to recommend Maureen Duffy & David C. Yamada, editors, Workplace Bullying and Mobbing in the United States (2018), a two-volume treatise with some two dozen chapter contributors (link here).
Training/expertise in psychological/mental health first aid
Training in psychological first aid will help peer support group participants understand trauma and recognize the boundaries of when people should be referred to counseling or medical assistance.
Johns Hopkins University offers an online course in Psychological First Aid via Coursera (link here). The course is free, with a modest charge to receive certification:
Learn to provide psychological first aid to people in an emergency by employing the RAPID model: Reflective listening, Assessment of needs, Prioritization, Intervention, and Disposition.
Utilizing the RAPID model (Reflective listening, Assessment of needs, Prioritization, Intervention, and Disposition), this specialized course provides perspectives on injuries and trauma that are beyond those physical in nature.
The course is taught by Dr. George S. Everly, who is the co-author, with Dr. Jeffrey M. Lating, of The Johns Hopkins Guide to Psychological First Aid (2017).
Training/expertise in coaching
Training and experience in personal coaching may come in useful here. Many basic coaching skills are useful for peer support interactions as well. In contrast to common belief, coaching is not about being prescriptive or directive. Rather, it is mostly about asking the right questions, listening, and helping individuals discover insights, answers, and solutions.
Coaching training programs abound, and the one I heartily recommend is the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (IPEC, link here). Some six years ago, I did the year-long IPEC core energy coaching program, and I’m very grateful for it. Although I eventually decided not to set up my own coaching practice, the personal growth I experienced and the communications skills that I developed continue to provide welcomed benefits today. Having undergone that training, I’m confident that a good coaching program can enable one’s growth as a peer support group facilitator.
Legal, liability, and ethical issues
I would be remiss if I didn’t put on my legal hat with this topic. Although the risk of a peer support group facilitator or participant being sued may be remote, I’ve seen a few pages for peer support groups that suggest requiring all participants to sign liability waivers.
I’m not going to start rendering legal opinions on that possibility here, especially given the global readership of this blog and the varied legal jurisdictions represented. However, suffice it to say that legal, liability, and ethical issues should not be ignored, especially the importance of avoiding what could be interpreted as providing psychological counseling or legal advice.
I hope this information has been helpful for people involved in peer support groups for bullying and mobbing targets. Readers who have identified other useful resources are invited to mention them in the comments section.
This post was revised and updated in August 2021.