Healing Circles: Share Your Experience

Highlighted Video

Michael Lerner explores what a healing circle is. See Healing Circles.

We heal most deeply in community. The people who often help us heal most deeply are those who are going through what we are experiencing. That is why good cancer support groups—or healing circles—are so helpful for many people with cancer—and for those who love them who are going through the experience with them. Finding a truly healing support group or healing circle can be a challenge. There are online groups—we list a few examples below. Or you can join with others—or create your own.

We started Healing Circles because the alumni of our week-long Cancer Help Program retreats wanted to sustain face-to-face meetings. Our alumni groups meet monthly for two hours. There are others who offer similar methodologies. No one invented healing circles. They've been with us from the beginning of human history. Our Healing Circles, co-created with three other centers that have offered the Cancer Help Program for 20 years or more, are slowly spreading across the US and Canada and beyond.

You can explore our approach at Healing Circles Global, or check the other examples of support groups or healing circles listed below. We welcome your experience. We're just beginning to build out this part of BCCT.

Michael Lerner

What Makes a Circle Healing?

Inspired by discussions at the Healing Circles Annual Leadership Council, Whidbey Island, August 2018

By BCCT advisor Janie Brown, Callanish Society

The only person who can accurately perceive a circle to be healing is the individual circle participant. Healing is what the person says it is. (Like pain is what the person says it is).

I feel healed in a circle:

  • When I take the risk of being vulnerable and share my truth
  • When I hear another person share what is true for them
  • When I feel accepted no matter the content of what I share
  • When I feel accepted no matter the emotions I express
  • When I feel deeply listened to (I can tell by the quality of attention and compassionate expressions on the faces of the listeners that I have been heard)
  • When I feel a sense of awe at the capacity of humans to be present to both the beauty and the heartbreaks of their lives
  • When I feel inspired by others to express more love, kindness, compassion, joy and equanimity in my life
  • When the atmosphere of the circle is warm, patient, kind, forgiving, trusting, gentle, fierce and steady
  • When my heart opens equally to strangers as to friends
  • When I sense care in setting up the sacred space:
    • A circle with chairs positioned so that everyone can see each other
    • Agesture of beauty in the centre (eg. flowers, rocks, candles, photographs, symbols,
      cloth, bell)
    • Doors to the outside world are closed
    • All technology is fully silenced and invisible
  • When the circle is opened and closed with care and specificity, and punctuality
  • When I feel the circle rest in itself
  • When the circle’s strength is tested and holds
  • When the circle breaks and repairs itself
  • When a blessing is spoken from one person to another
  • When I see a compassionate gesture offered by one person to another
  • When I feel warmly welcomed into the circle
  • When I feel warmly released from the circle
  • When I feel safe:
    • When the host/facilitator/leader/participants abide by the circle contracts
    • When the host intervenes kindly and respectfully, and sometimes fiercely when a circle
      contract is broken
    • When the host models vulnerability, deep listening, full attention, and compassion
  • When I sense the intelligence/wisdom/grace/mystery of the circle arise in our midst
  • When I sense interdependence—that my life only happens in relation to all lives
  • When I feel deeply grateful for the circle

Online Support Communities

After reviewing a multitude of online communities offering platforms for peer-to-peer discussions for people with cancer and their loved ones, we chose the following sites. Each website listed here offers active discussion groups for different cancer types and topics. Some communities included are broader than cancer; communities for specific cancer types (such as colorectal cancer) were not included. We invite suggestions for further active communities to include.

Miki Scheidel

American Cancer Society: Large, active online peer discussion boards based on types of cancer and key topics. 

Cancer Connect: Combines current cancer treatment news and educational content with over 60 moderated social communities for patients and caregivers. Used by leading cancer centers. 

Cancer Support Community: Connect with others through moderated discussion boards, find resources on living with cancer, communicate with family and friends through a private website or blog, utilize the calendar to track appointments, and post requests for help from family and friends.  

Inspire: A platform used by over two hundred organizations, including over 35 different cancer organizations such as the Lung Cancer Association, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, Fight Colorectal Cancer and the Kidney Cancer Association. Over 2 million users.

Navigating Care: Hosts public discussion groups on various types of cancers and topics that anyone can join, with robust membership. If partnered with your cancer center, you can also access patient records, and communicate with your healthcare team as well as your personal support network. 

Smart Patients: Robust, active peer-to-peer discussion groups in clean format. Strong profile page design, which enables patients to learn from each others’ stories. Also features a clinical trial search and patient stories of hope. Not limited to cancer.

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