So the question is - Do you want to go to a bereavement support group, or not?
Well, hopefully after reading this entry you will have a better idea of whether a support group is right for you. You may also get an idea of what to expect when you get there, how to participate, if you participate, what to say and what not to say.
Let's start with a crash course on bereavement group structure. There is typically two types of groups - open and closed.
Open groups tend to be ongoing (there is no start or end date). Usually there is no pre-registration required. The groups are held on the same day and time of every month and participants are encouraged to just show-up if they feel they would like to come to a group on that particular day. Often times these groups will be called "drop-in" groups, because participants can just "drop-in" at any time.
1. No commitment on your part is needed, which is very important in grief. You may not know if you will want to come to group until that day arrives.
2. Since these groups are on-going, a person can depend on these groups being a permanent place of support, until they no longer need this extra help.
1. It is very difficult to offer psychoeducational components on grief due to the ever-changing group participants. The focus is more on telling the "story", not on learning how to move through the grief process.
Closed groups usually have a start and end date. These groups are usually six to eight weeks in length. Once these groups are started, new members are usually not allowed to participate. You can expect to have a pre-registration and a nominal fee. The focus of these groups are psychoeducational in nature, with some attention to telling the "story." However most of the time will be spent learning about the grief process and coping strategies.
1. These are highly focused groups, and some people prefer to have this focus and a more work-like (or school-like) atmosphere.
2. When a person is experiencing grief, they may feel like they do not want to leave the house, or participate in any outside activities. Time limited groups offer a chance for the grieving person to leave the home in a gradual manner, that will have positive benefits.
1. Since these are highly focused groups on psychoeducation, the sharing of stories are usually not a primary goal, which may leave some members feeling as if they need more support.
Keep in mind that support groups are not for everyone. I like to advise people that they may come and see what it is all about and no one will be offended if they need to leave before the group is over, or if they decide they do not want to come back. Some people prefer support groups, some people prefer individual counseling, some people prefer both.
When your loss occurred will also help you decide whether you want to come to a group or not. A loss that has occurred within weeks of a group may be too soon for some people. The hurt is still so fresh and raw that just hearing others' stories will be too much to bear. Yet there are others who are encouraged hearing that they are not the only ones experiencing the emotions and thoughts that they are having.
What kind of loss you experienced will also help you with this decision. There are "generalized groups" and "specialized groups." Generalized groups have members that have experienced various kinds of losses - parental loss, spousal loss, child loss, grandparent loss, etc. However, there are some people who feel that they would be more comfortable in a specialized group. Specialized groups can be people who have experienced JUST child loss, spousal loss (widow/widowers groups), suicide survivors (family and friends that lost a loved one to suicide), traumatic loss (car accident, overdose, homicide), etc.
If you decide to join a group, there a few simple rules that apply for EVERY group.
1. Confidentiality! Anything that is shared in the group, stays in the group! The fact that a person is in the group is confidential as well.
2. No shoulds or musts! People intend to be helpful, but it's not appropriate to tell another group member that they "should" do something, or they "must" act a certain way.
3. No judgments! It is not our place to judge another group member for what they are saying. Group is supposed to be a safe place where they can come to unburden themselves and cry freely, if needed.
4. Don't monopolize the group. This is a hard one. Again, people don't intend to monopolize the group. It's just that their pain is so great and their need is so strong, they don't realize that they are using up all the group time and not letting other group members have a chance to share their story.
The overall advantages to choosing a group, is the connections and extra supports that you will meet, the commonalities you will experience with other group members and what you will learn about the grief process and your own unique and individual grief.
So, have you decided to Group or not Group?