During June we have had four peer group meetings. Together with the clients we have eaten self-made fish soup, fixed bikes and played a typical Finnish outdoor summer game called Mölkky.
The number of participants in the peer group meetings has varied from zero to six. It seems that few men have committed to the group. The others come and go, appear in the meetings and then disappear. Some of them respond to messages that we send to them to inform them about coming peer group meetings. Some of them even call us. We might have long telephone conversations with them, but when it is time to come to the meetings the men are not there – even though on the phone they have promised to be there. Also, some of the men have lost their phone connections in a couple of weeks’ time and we have lost the contact with them.
We discussed these problems with our colleagues from our local partners, Sininauha Oy and A-kilta, which are organizations that work with substance abusing clients or former alcoholics. The colleagues agreed with us: it is a very typical phenomenon among the clients of this target group. The clients have difficulties with committing to the group meetings or other activities. The summer time highlights these problems. During winter many clients take part in this kind of activities more actively but in the summer time they find something else to do – or don’t do anything special, which is more common.
Sometimes even getting out of one’s own home can be a huge psychological effort for our clients. It’s typical that they have decided and promised beforehand to attend some activity – and they have truly believed that they are really going to do that. But when they should leave their homes they just can’t do it, for one reason or another. There are also more practical explanations why our clients don’t always show up even though they have said that they will. They have told us that they don’t have money to buy bus tickets or they don’t want – or they don’t know how – to use public transport.
If it’s rainy or the sun is shining too warmly they don’t want to come by bike. Also that the biking route through the city centre is full of temptations that they feel they can’t resist. It’s not yet easy for them to bypass all those pubs and beer gardens. On the contrary, one of the men told us that he had biked to a beer garden straight after our peer group meeting. He explained that the weather was so nice that all his old bad habits came back to his mind and his addiction took the control. As we know it’s a long and bumpy road to overcome alcoholism.
Our clients, middle-aged men with past – or not so past – drinking problems – are mostly people who have had no “normal “hobbies (beside drinking) in their adulthood. They are not familiar with the idea of committing themselves to some activity regularly. Some of them are also shy and they suffer from a lack of social skills. For them it is not easy to come to a group where they don’t know other participants beforehand and it takes time to make them feel comfortable enough to join the meetings.
Attending these Much More peer group meetings are not tied to any financial benefits of the clients. So their livelihood doesn’t depend on taking part in these meetings. That means that our clients have to want to come to the meetings totally voluntarily – so they must feel our group so meaningful that they will come again and again. For us it means that we have to manage to form a group that the clients feel important for them themselves.
How can we make that happen? That’s the question and a major challenge for us professionals. After all, we have decided to find out how we can do that with the Much More project. Together with our clients we have made some plans for the next peer group meetings: we are going fishing, bowling and playing billiards together. That’s what our clients suggested.