How to Start & Facilitate a Grief Support Group
When experiencing the loss of a loved one, finding an outlet to express your emotions safely is important. Friends and family may be helpful, but sometimes it isn’t enough. A grief support group can provide the proper tools and resources to navigate the grief process healthily. If you are interested in supporting those in grief, creating a safe, non-judgmental space for the bereaved to process their grief can be a wonderful idea.
What is a Grief Support Group?
A grief support group provides a safe and inviting space for individuals encountering grief to express themselves without judgment. The group is comprised of people who are also experiencing grief and wish to connect. Participants can receive validation, emotional support, and grief education through a grief support group.
How to Start a Grief Support Group
While the grief process can be singularly unique, it is possible to connect with other grief-stricken individuals and find common ground. You may feel alone in your community or feel there is a lack of support; however, you have the power to change that. If you’re experiencing grief or wish to help those who are, there are a few steps you can take to start a grief support group based on your overall vision.
Envision Your Group
Think about why you want to start a support group in the first place. Do you have a particular group of people in mind that you wish to support? For example, it could be a support group for grieving the loss of a child. How will your experiences or education help to support those in grief?
While you want to help as many people as possible, creating a group that’s too large may be difficult to sustain. If there are too many people, you risk missing out on offering healthy support for each participant. In that case, you may want to narrow the group more.
Consider the Duration
How long would you like your support group to run? Do you envision meeting for just a few weeks or indefinitely? A finite timeline can help focus interest and give participants a definitive start and end date. If the support group is popular, you can start another session when convenient. Support groups that run indefinitely can be a major commitment and a considerable drain on your mental and emotional resources.
Determine the Frequency
Along with the duration of the support group, you’ll want to determine just how often the group should meet. For example, is a two-hour session once a week on Monday evenings a good fit for your group? Do you feel a longer session is more appropriate based on the group size? What is a sustainable level of support for you? Organizing and leading a support group can be a big commitment.
Create a Format
Having a format allows you to gauge the overall progress of your support group. There are three common support group formats you can use:
- Curriculum-based structure: In this format, participants are given reading assignments each session, which will be discussed at a future session.
- Topic-based structure: You present a pre-determined topic of discussion for each session. This format gives you a starting point for opening up dialogue among participants.
- Open forum: This style opens the floor to group members, allowing them to bring up whatever they wish to discuss.
Find a Meeting Location
It’s important to find a space that is safe and affordable. If group members don’t feel the space is safe to express themselves, they won’t be interested in participating. Keeping the space affordable allows you to maintain your support group attendance. Popular choices include churches, hospitals, libraries, and even community centers.
Spread the Word
In order to get your support group going, you’ll need to get the word out. It’s helpful to advertise your program in places where your particular group may congregate, such as hospitals, churches, or funeral homes. You can also talk to other support groups to see if there is any way you can offer help.
How to Facilitate a Grief Support Group
When facilitating a grief support group, you want to ensure you’ve developed a foundation to support your vision.
Create a Mission Statement
A clear, well-defined mission statement sets the foundation for the work you’ll be doing together in the support group. It defines the group's purpose and the goals it hopes to achieve. Participants rely on this statement to help shepherd them through their grief.
Create a Team
Building, running, and maintaining a support group is a big undertaking. In order to keep your vision sustainable, you’ll need help. Enlist others to help you manage the needs of the group. Whether it’s putting the curriculum together, relaying information, or being a point of contact for members, spreading out your responsibilities only enables you to offer better care and support to your group members.
Stick to the Plan
Whatever support group format you decide to use during a session, stay with it. Keeping order in the support group is key to its success. When you stay within the boundaries of your format, you allow your meeting to have a focus, which will help participants stay tuned in to the program. Getting off-topic can defeat the purpose of why everyone is there in the first place. Ultimately, everyone wants to know how to manage their grief and move forward with life. It’s also important to start and end sessions on time. You want to instill reliability and stability in your group to help gain their trust in your format.
Why Start a Grief Support Group
Starting a grief support group can provide several benefits to those struggling with grief.
When you create a safe, judgment-free space for grief-stricken individuals, they feel free to face and express their thoughts and emotions. Opening a dialogue about the struggles of grief can normalize and reduce fears associated with addressing it.
Provide Critical Support
For many who struggle with grief, they may have nowhere else to turn for support. Friends and family may be unaware, unequipped, or emotionally unavailable to support them. Grief-stricken individuals may simply not be comfortable asking for help from those closest to them.
Your support group may help them break through their limitations in the grief process. By offering support and education, you help validate their experience and supply them with tools and coping skills for processing their grief in a healthy way.
While the grief process can be difficult, better days are ahead. With your support group, participants can redefine their identity and learn to live a happy and fulfilling life once again.
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