The Power of Support Groups
BY: Shawn Eigenbrode, MSW, LSW, GC-C
CATEGORY: Grief and Loss
PUBLICATION: About Grief
Although grief is a nearly universal human experience, it is also deeply personal. Grief can be lonely. The death of a loved one can leave us feeling out of sync with the world around us and disconnected from our usual social support systems. We may withdraw in order to protect ourselves or to conserve energy. Family members may be unable to offer comfort if they too are grieving. Friends and colleagues may not relate to our loss, or they may be uncomfortable discussing death. Even sincere well-wishers often say or do things that simply are not helpful.
Support groups, also called “mutual aid” groups, offer a practical tool to fill this void by bringing together community members facing similar challenges. Led by a facilitator, support groups provide a structured yet flexible forum for discussing problems, asking questions and sharing compassion. Support groups do not provide counseling or therapy, but they may supplement those services.
Grief support groups, whether online or in person, can provide a safe space where the bereaved can share experiences, express difficult emotions – anger, fear, guilt, disappointment, regret – or candidly discuss relationship dynamics. Attendees may also choose to simply listen. Grief support groups offer connection without obligation, judgement or expense. Attendees bring a wide range of perspectives and wisdom.
One common misconception about grief support groups is that they are depressing. Skeptics assume that discussing grief and listening to others’ stories will only add to their own burdens. Typically, the opposite occurs. Attendees routinely report gaining a sense of relief and comfort from the group setting and may even experience moments of laughter and joy. Contacting the facilitator in advance can help to ease anxieties and answer preliminary questions.
Variations on support groups offer options to the bereaved. “Psychoeducational” groups, like Western Reserve Grief Services’ Circle of Hope series, typically emphasize information and learning. They meet more frequently, but for a limited number of weeks.
If you prefer creative outlets rather than discussion or information-based forums, WRGS also offers a variety of Healing Arts Workshops. A board-certified art therapist leads these supportive workshops, but participants do not need artistic skills or training to participate. Online groups or virtual communities provide web-based alternatives to traditional in-person support groups. Depending on your computer skills, such options may provide unique benefits or convenience.
Sometimes, more than one attempt may be necessary to find the option or group that best meets your needs. Please do not be discouraged; it’s okay to experiment. Regardless of your loss or coping style, remember that you are not alone, and you do not need to grieve alone.