Group Observations

The group I chose to observe was an alcoholics anonymous group. I chose this as the group to observe because it relates to this field of work and also I have family members whom I attend meetings with for support. There are different types of AA groups. The most common two are open meetings, and closed meetings. Open meetings are meetings where speakers tell how they drank, how they discovered AA, and how its program has helped them. Members may bring relatives or friends to open meetings. Closed meetings are for alcoholics only. These are group discussions, and any members who want to may speak up, to ask questions and to share their thoughts with other members.

The primary purpose of AA is to stay sober and to help others achieve sobriety. I attended a few different alcoholics anonymous meetings throughout the month. During the meetings there were on average about anywhere from twenty to forty people to attend. The group was sometimes seated in a circle where each member was able to face each other, and sometimes seated in rows with one speaker in front of the entire group. The meeting sometimes began with a speaker telling their story, and other times group members volunteering to speak about their story or problems that were troubling them.

Many members of the group were fairly young, with few people who were approximately above the age of thirty five, and a slim amount of people around the age of fifty to sixty. The majority of members in the group were male; however there were a fair amount of females as well. In the groups that I attended there happened to be mainly white people, on occasion there were one or two African Americans that attended. What I gathered from the meetings was that the group provides relationship and love for the members.

The members are supportive of each other. Many of those who spoke up talked about the importance of fellowship, and friendships that they had developed with members of the group. At the end of the meetings everyone would stand in a circle and hold hands while they said a prayer. The roles of the people at an AA meeting are generally the same from person to person. Their role is to share their experiences, strengths and hope with each other that they may solve their common problem and help others to recover from alcoholism.

One of the group norms I observed was hugging. A lot of people at AA meetings seem to hug each other rather than shake hands with one another. It seems as if when you do not engage in hugging it is thought to be that you are “weird”. In AA I believe that hugging is not meant to harm but to welcome a person. Another norm is that an alcoholic must have a sponsor of the same sex. In this group gaining relationships with all people is encouraged, but it is suggested for the women to be supported by the women, and the men to be supported by the men.

The communication style of those at an AA meeting are communicated through their experiences and through a set of rituals and beliefs. The members of the group are responsible for creating and maintaining AA's rituals, beliefs, and communication styles that is used at meetings and throughout everyday in order to keep sober. AA members have a common set of guidelines to follow. These guidelines are called the Twelve Steps and the Twelve Traditions. They also have a book that they call The Big Book. The Big Book outlines AA's history and values. Anybody at an AA meeting can serve as the “leader” or as they often say have the chair. They use the groups format and select a topic for discussion.

One or more members are often selected before the group begins to share their experience, tell what it was like, what they are like now, and share techniques that worked for themselves and may also work for other members of the group. In this type of group decisions are made in groups. Usually a question is asked and voted on by members. This group was very interesting to observe. Everyone worked together as a family to help everyone else around them, took them in without judgment, accepted them as a person, and openly discussed their life problems while asking for help. I do not think that many groups run this way.

The second type of group I attended and observed was a family meeting; which are held weekly in my household. During family meetings we discuss damaged sibling relationships, stressed parent disagreements, chores, groceries, school, and housekeeping. TV’s, computers, and distractions are off, and cell phones are confiscated. Meetings usually last anywhere from thirty minutes to an hour, and generally occur on Friday nights after dinner.

There are eight kids, and one parent in the household and without maintaining these weekly meetings things can become very chaotic. Everyone sits around the table in the dining room and one by one we are to go around the and share our concerns, conflicts and complains, as well as compliments, and things that they believe went well through out the week. After the one person has shared their thoughts and feelings, everyone else in the group has the opportunity to state their opinion on the matter and than the next person goes on sharing.

After each family member has had an opportunity to speak we re-discuss the issues and come up with ideas that may solve the problem as well as prevent the problem from re-occuing. During the end of the meeting we come up with a plan for the following week, including which child is going to do which chores, take note of those who may have an appointment, event, or friend coming over. It is also written down what everyone would like to have bought in groceries this week.

After the meeting the kids usually make a snack together (ice cream Sundays, brownies, etc.) The primary purpose of a family meeting is to discuss goals of care and advance planning, identify issues and provide the opportunity to have everyone’s opinions voiced and heard. A family meeting can improve communication between the family. There is a lot of problem solving in this sort of group. It has good structure, and positive out comes.