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Life skills for stress, health & wellbeing, first session

Yesterday we had the first evening of the Life Skills group.  I've written in the past about the background planning behind this group.  How did this first meeting go?  Well there were nine of us - eight participants and myself.  Rather demandingly I'm both running a new course and trying to get used to new technology at the same time.  For years, when running small group trainings here at our house, I've used an overhead projector to shine transparencies up onto the wall.  For a while I've wanted to upgrade to a laptop and data projector, and this evening I went ahead to put this into practice.

I had a series of 19 Powerpoint slides prepared for this 2 hour first session - rather too many even though the course participants just received handouts of 12 of them (first session, slides 1-6 and first session, slides 7-12).  After welcoming everybody, I explained my three priorities for the evening - 1.) to provide an overview of the whole twelve session course and help participants relate this to their own personal goals.  2.) to introduce an initial four areas: Autogenic Training, physical exercise, autonomous motivation & skilful goal setting.  3.) for everyone to be clear about the specific "home work" they wanted to focus on during the following week.

I explained that over the twelve sessions of the course I wanted to explore and help them develop more knowledge & competence in a.) "basic skills": exercise, diet, weight, alcohol, smoking & sleep. b.) "meditation": Autogenic Training, applied relaxation, visualisation, mindfulness & compassion.  c.) "wellbeing": positive emotions, self-determination & happiness.  d.) "relationships": emotional intelligence & social networks.  I said that this is a big buffet of options.  I didn't expect them to miraculously become experts and paragons of good practice in all these areas.  I did however want them to understand the importance of each area, what would be involved in developing competence in the area, and what they personally wanted to do about it.  I talked about Prochaska et al's stages of change model - highlighting that there were a series of worthwhile steps to take when developing new patterns of behaviour.

I handed out pieces of paper and asked everyone to write down briefly their own personal priorities for the course.  I got them to fold these papers and put them in a bowl, which was then passed round again so that everyone could now take out one of the papers.  Each person in turn went on to say their name and to read out what was on their paper.  Meanwhile I wrote the personal priorities they read out onto A1 flipchart sheets.  In this way everyone gets to say their name, and we all get an overview (anonymously) of what participants' priorities are, without - at this early stage of the group - everyone having to "bare their souls" over what they are most troubled by and most want help with.

I insist on seeing anyone wanting to enroll on this course for at least one initial one-to-one session with me beforehand - to understand what they hope to get from taking the course, to make sure this is appropriate and realistic, to orientate and prepare them for what the course involves, and to begin making a therapeutic relationship with them.  Even so, it is still helpful for me as well to see these personal hopes put up on the A1 sheets at this first evening.

I went on to highlight what we'll focus on over the first four sessions of the twelve session course.  These initial subject areas are going to be Autogenic Training, physical exercise, diet and weight.  I will also be exploring motivation, Self-Determination Theory, goal setting, and the behavioural stages of change model.  I introduced Autogenic Training further and we went on to an initial practice session.  I explained how I think there is a lot of sense in practising for 10 to 15 minutes a couple of times daily while learning Autogenics.  I talked too about what progress can you expect and asked everyone to keep a record of their practice - and a record of their physical exercise too.

I discussed checking it's safe to start exercising and the US guidelines on moderate & vigorous exercise.  I gave them each a copy of the 2 page US guideline handout "Be active your way: a fact sheet for adults"I asked them to begin charting their daily aerobic exercise using the guideline's "moderate activities" and "vigorous activities" distinction.  

I'd probably tried to push a bit too much into this first two hour session, but overall the evening seemed to have gone pretty well.  Content for this week has been starting to practice the Autogenic Training relaxation/meditation exercise and beginning to chart aerobic exercise.  Orientation has involved better understanding of what the course - as a whole - involves, what our focus will be in these first few sessions, and what participants particularly wanted to achieve through taking the course.  I also talked about motivation, highlighting the importance of each of us making decisions autonomously.  I said that they were more likely to be committed to lasting changes if the activities & "home work" they set themselves over the course made good sense to them and they wanted to do it.  I said that I didn't want them to go along with things just because of a sense of group pressure or other external motivation.  This will be something it will be worth revisiting over these first weeks of the course. 

I'll post again on how the course is going after next week's meeting.


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