Are Grief Support Groups Helpful?

March 30, 2021

Support groups bring together people who are going through or have gone through similar experiences.

There are hundreds of different types of support groups that someone can become a part of. For example, this common ground might be cancer, chronic medical conditions, addiction, grief, or caregiving.

A support group provides opportunities for people to share personal experiences and feelings, coping strategies, or firsthand information about diseases and treatments.

For many people, a support group may fill a gap and become a very safe place to talk, share and heal.

A person’s family and friends may not understand the impact of their ongoing loss. They may not be able to provide adequate emotional support

A support group among people with shared experiences may function as a bridge between medical and emotional needs.

Much like the grieving process, the choice to attend a grief support group is unique and individual. Some people find such groups extremely helpful because they offer a safe space to share one’s feelings and memories with others who understand what they are going through.

One of the things that we know to be true for grievers is that many grievers have an overwhelming feeling to share and talk about what has happened to them. However, first, we know that these need to occur in an extremely safe place—not just any listener will do.

The listener must simply listen, and not give feedback or try to fix the griever. Grievers are extremely sensitive to their story and they will also know if you are not listening and are trying to fix them or change the subject.

In many cases, the grievers’ heart and brain are not on the same frequency. This means that the brain knows what has happened to the griever intellectually, but the heart is resisting understanding the truth.

To find the group that meets your individual needs, you might have to try out several different groups. When choosing a support group, be prepared to feel uneasy and nervous while traveling to the meeting location.

The benefits of participating in a support group may include:

  • Feeling less lonely, isolated, or judged
  • Experiencing reduced distress, depression, anxiety, or fatigue
  • Talking openly and honestly about your feelings
  • Improving skills to cope with challenges
  • Staying motivated to manage chronic conditions or stick to treatment plans
  • Gaining a sense of empowerment, control, or hope
  • Improving the understanding of a disease and your own experience with it
  • Getting practical feedback about treatment options
  • Learning about health, economic, or social resources

The possible risks of joining a support group include:

  • Disruptive group members
  • Conversation dominated by griping
  • Lack of confidentiality
  • Emotional entanglement, group tension, or interpersonal conflicts
  • Inappropriate or unsound medical advice
  • Competitive comparisons regarding whose condition or experience are worse

Typically, grief support groups meet weekly and are moderated by a facilitator or volunteer. Participants are encouraged to voice their feelings. It is very important to research the type of group that will best fit your needs. You will want to avoid finding a group where you feel overwhelmed and uncomfortable.

It is also important to state that most groups are not run by mental health professionals, so the facilitator might not know how to prevent group members from giving unsolicited advice to other group members, often making them feel judged and criticized.

Commit to staying until the end of the meeting. Know that you do not have to share if you do not want to; instead, you can choose to be a listener and hold the space for the other members of the group.

Finally, go into the meeting with an open mind. You will not know if it is truly helpful if you are closed off to the possibility of what the group has to offer. You might have to attend a few meetings to make up your mind on whether that particular group is suitable for you.


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