When you first lose a loved one, your friends and family may provide all the care and support you need. But over time, you may require other outlets to process your grief. That’s where a grief support group can help! The question is, “How do you know whether a certain grief support group is a good one or not?” To help you answer that question, we’ve compiled a list of 9 qualities to look for in a grief support group.
Want more information on the benefits of a grief support group? Read 7 Benefits of Joining a Grief Support Group.
9 Qualities to Look for in a Grief Support Group
Every person is different – personality, background, support needs – but at a basic level, every grief support group should showcase these qualities.
A good grief support group:
1. Possesses a strong and capable facilitator
We’ll start with perhaps the most important quality for any grief support group – a facilitator who knows what they’re doing. The facilitator should understand group dynamics, know how to kindly rein people in, and be personally familiar with grief. Often, facilitators receive some form of training or are intimately familiar with the grieving process. Regardless, the facilitator can make or break the group, and so many of the remaining qualities depend on their leadership. So, make sure you trust the facilitator and feel that they are competent and capable.
2. Recognizes that each person’s grief is unique
Have you noticed that some deaths affect you more deeply than others? That’s because your level of grief directly relates to your personality and your relationship with the deceased. For example, if your spouse dies, you will grieve differently than his of her friends and family. Most people attending the funeral will know and care about the deceased, but they won’t all have the same depth of relationship. A good grief support group will openly recognize that every person’s grief is unique, and they won’t try to lump everyone into the same grief bucket.
3. Reminds you that you’re not alone in your grief
Grief doesn’t come with a timetable; it takes the time it takes. So, it can feel lonely, especially if you see other family members moving forward more quickly than you. A good grief support group will remind you that you’re not alone on the grief journey. The group will be made up of people from all walks of life who are at different parts of the healing process. As you interact with other grieving people, there is comfort in knowing you aren’t alone and that there’s hope for your own journey toward healing and reconciliation.
4. Allows participants to share at their comfort level
In a good grief support group, you should feel comfortable sharing (or not sharing) as you see fit. Also, no one or two people should monopolize the group discussion. You will see participants expressing a variety of emotions – sadness, uncertainty, anger, fear – and all of these emotions are accepted. Each person should feel validated and heard, but never pressured to participate when they don’t want to do so.
5. Creates a judgment-free, safe space
Grief brings out a lot of complicated emotions, and a good grief support group will allow you to express those feelings without fear of judgment. There should be a commitment amongst attendees that the gathering is a confidential space. People should be able to speak without interruption and know that other members are listening with empathy and kindness. There’s comfort in hearing and being heard, but you need to know that you’re in a safe place with safe people.
6. Adheres to an organized structure and sets expectations
The facilitator should clearly outline expectations for the group. This may include a confidentiality clause, guidelines on asking questions, things to say and not to say, etc. The gathering should feel organized and well-structured. When you’re grieving, the last thing you need is extra chaos, and a disorganized group may only add to your stress. Also, consider the size of the group. It’s often best to join a group with 5-15 members. Make sure you find a group that clearly outlines the expectations and has an easy rhythm to follow.
7. Respects everyone’s beliefs
When you bring a group of people together, you’re going to get all kinds of backgrounds, beliefs, cultural differences, and opinions. In a good group, everyone should feel welcome. You may not agree with everyone’s worldview, but you have the common ground of grief. You can support each other and learn from each other as you move toward the common goal of healing. However, if you prefer, there are groups that focus on approaching grief from a specific perspective or religion. Feel free to seek these groups out. The most important thing is your healing!
8. Educates you on what grief is and how to process it
A good grief support group will allow you to share what’s on your heart and mind, but it will also provide you with a better understanding of grief. You should learn more about what grief is, why we feel it, and how to process it in a healthy way. This could mean hearing about relaxation techniques, stress management, or outwardly processing your feelings through creativity, journaling, or exercise. Plus, as you listen to other members, you will glean from their experience and identify habits that will help you grieve.
9. Addresses your specific type of loss
This last quality is not a “must” for everyone, but it’s worth mentioning. Some people prefer to join a support group that focuses on a specific type of loss, such as spouse loss, child loss, or suicide loss. A group that focuses on general grief is excellent and worth joining, but if you feel the need to join a group that targets your specific form of loss, don’t ignore that need. There are countless groups out there – both online and in person. Attend a few different groups (give each group a fair shake) before settling on the one that best fits your needs.
While a support group won’t take away your grief, it should give you hope. There are good things to come, and you will find the healing you’re looking for. If you find that a grief support group isn’t right for you, that’s completely fine. Instead, consider talking to a grief counselor one-on-one. You don’t have to walk this road alone. There are people ready and willing to walk alongside you.
Your local funeral home should be able to point you to grief support groups in your specific area. Additionally, you can check out these online resources for grief support:
- National Alliance for Children’s Grief (child)
- The Compassionate Friends (all grief)
- National Widowers Organization (widowers)
- Soaring Spirits International (loss of spouse)
- COPE (loss of sibling)
- TAPS (loss of veteran or service member)
- GriefShare (all grief)
- MISS Foundation (loss of child)
- SAVE (suicide loss)