How to start a new Balint group

Are you interested in starting a new Balint group? We are able to help you with advice, suggestions and possibly some start-up financial support.

1. What are the essentials for a Balint group?

  • Members – ideally a minimum of 8-10 people, to allow a large enough group even when someone is away, but 6-8 committed people can work well. They may be all doctors (GPs, psychiatrists, hospital doctors) or include nurses, counsellors, psychologists or anybody who works therapeutically with patients/clients and who wants to discuss their work in a confidential environment, and who can meet regularly. Multi-professional groups can be very productive, but can be harder to manage for less experienced group leaders.
  • A leader/facilitator or even better, two. They must have experience of being a Balint group member, and usually should either be a Balint Society accredited leader or working towards this. A very good option is for one leader to have training in psychodynamic psychotherapy or similar work. It is also helpful for one leader to come from the same professional group as most of the members (often, this will mean being a GP) as they will understand the context and difficulties of their work. The leaders should normally aim to make time for debriefing together after each meeting. If you find yourself leading a group on your own, you may find it helpful to arrange some supervision, either personally or in a local peer supervision group if there is one in your area. The Balint society may be able to put you in touch with a suitable supervisor.
  • A place – a room which is large enough for the group to sit comfortably in a circle, available for all meetings and free from intrusion (excessive noise, or interruptions). Changes of venue, especially if unplanned, can be very disruptive to a group.
  • Sometimes, an institutional base such as a clinical department or educational body, which is supportive towards Balint work. If you are working within an institution, try to find a fairly senior person in the organisation who knows something about Balint work and can be your champion and link. Clarify whether the institution requires you to carry out evaluation or assessment of group members. An independently run group can often work well with more freedom to set its own rules and standards, and an uncommitted organisation can be a positive hindrance.
  1. How can I/we find these basics?
  •  Members – this can be the hardest. Local professional organisations will have lists of members who can be circularised. Talk to GP Tutors, Postgraduate Tutors or Deans, ‘First 5’ coordinators, locum groups, other professional groups if you are looking for non-GPs – everyone you can think of. Send out email fliers. Realise that not everyone who initially expresses interest will become a group member; it is worth talking to interested people about what will be involved so they are aware of the sort of content and the level of commitment they will need. You might suggest they look at the Balint Society website, and particularly read John Salinsky’s “A very short introduction to Balint groups” which can be found on the page ‘About Balint Groups’.
  • Leader(s) – you are probably one of these, if you are reading this. If you are looking for a co-leader, one of us or a local Balint Society member may be able to put you in touch with someone in your area. Alternatively you might approach your local department of medical psychotherapy to see if they have anyone who might be interested.
  • A venue. Consider health centres, hospital educational rooms, or community venues such as meeting houses. As a last resort, a group can work in someone’s home (usually a leader’s) if the room is large enough and really safe from interruptions.
  • An umbrella organisation – we think you will either already have one, or not!
  1. Getting started.
  • If there are two leaders, make sure they meet in advance with plenty of time to discuss their aims, experience and agendas, and also plan the details of how the group will work and how they will arrange leadership roles between them.
  • Decide a regular time and place, or maybe two or more possible alternatives which both leaders can manage regularly. Either set up a preliminary meeting with as many interested people as possible, or liaise by email to agree a regular timetable. Ensure everyone knows the planned timetable, and also what they will be expected to pay (see below). If you have a number of undecided potential members or a local organisation which is uncertain about Balint work, you may find it helpful to arrange a ‘taster’ session. The Balint Society can help to fund this if necessary.
  • At the first meeting, make sure everyone is introduced, everyone is clear about the aims of Balint work, and also what the ground rules for the group will be. This is time very well spent. It is also worth repeating whenever a new member joins the group; existing members may even benefit from the occasional reminder.
  1. Financial considerations.
  • There will inevitably be costs involved. Some leaders will need to be paid for their professional time and skills, and many venues will need to be paid for. There may be start-up costs, such as a taster session.
  • Groups are expected to pay their own running costs, and will therefore need members to commit to a regular financial contribution. Be clear about this from the start. It is usually best to ask for payment for a term or even a year in advance, as this encourages commitment and regular attendance.
  • Many leaders will need or expect to be paid, especially self-employed analysts or psychotherapists, and a reasonable fee seems to be about £50-£60 per hour. Some leaders may not expect payment if this would come from individual participants in an independent group, but most or all would expect to be paid if the group is operating within an organisation.
  • Most groups charge participants between £15 and £25 per 90 minute session, depending on costs, and expect payment for the series of meetings 6 or even 12 months in advance – i.e all meetings are paid for, even if participants miss some. You may want to offer new members a free trial session.

The Balint Society has funds which may be available to help with start-up costs. This includes refunding reasonable costs of a taster session or other preliminary meeting. It can also reimburse reasonable room costs for the first year, if this is necessary to enable a group to get going. If you would like financial support, please contact one of us, as shown below, to discuss this before incurring any costs. 

  1. Contacts.

Caroline is happy to talk or email.

Caroline Palmer is at 01282 870718.

  1. And lastly, for prospective group leaders – there are many lessons and pitfalls which other leaders have painfully learned. Try to read Anthony Froggett’s excellent article “How to fail at running a Balint group” in the 2013 Journal of the Balint Society attached here How to fail at running a Balint Group. Come to Balint weekends and leadership training days. Talk to your co-leader and consider supervision.

But we don’t want to put you off. Plenty of groups have run, and are running, happily and successfully – give it a go!

Caroline Palmer and Sally Wraight        April 2015