After losing a loved one the flooding emotions of pain, disbelief, guilt, and profound sadness can become nearly debilitating. Grief and bereavement is a complex experience that can be expressed in many ways that are both unique and personal. No matter what your individual experience with grief is, it is clear that it takes a toll on you, both physically and emotionally.
Grief recovery groups can be a beneficial option for those experiencing the grief associated with the death of a loved one. Using a combination of psychoeducation and support from both facilitators and peers, group counselling can help validate your emotions, inspire feelings of hope, and offer effective coping strategies to help you heal from your pain.
Throughout this article, we will uncover the benefits of grief recovery groups and how this setting can provide you with a sense of belonging, minimize feelings of isolation, and help you work through your grief alongside those who have shared a similar experience. We will also discuss the benefits of individual therapy in combination with or following group grief counselling.
Grief can come in waves of intense, long-lasting emotion that consumes your mind and body. Not only is grief a natural reaction to loss, but it’s also necessary to heal and grow from this pain. Since it’s rare that two people experience grief in the same way, grief groups help to bridge the gap by giving you the space to either listen to others and/or share your own story when you feel comfortable.
The purpose of a grief therapy group is to offer a form of psychological treatment and intervention in a group setting where participants work through their grief with the help and supervision of one or more therapists, who act as facilitators. In a group setting, participants are able to seek comfort and support from others who share similar experiences.
The goal of a support group is to help its members cope with difficulties in life. On the other hand, group therapy sessions are meant to help its members heal and create meaningful change. Although both types of groups bring together members who are struggling with similar challenges (e.g., grieving the loss of a loved one), group therapy is often facilitated by a trained therapist or psychologist.
Generally speaking, grief therapy group sessions will typically involve anywhere from 4 to 12 participants and one or more therapists to lead and facilitate the group. Group sessions usually happen once a week for 1-2 hours at a time and attendance is expected.
Throughout group therapy sessions, the therapist will either actively facilitate the group (e.g., teaching coping strategies or other helpful techniques) or they may be more observant and step in only to direct or intervene on occasion throughout the conversation between participants. Depending on the therapist or peer facilitator, group therapy sessions can be focused on talking, activities (e.g., music, exercise, projects), or a combination of the two.
Throughout these grief recovery sessions, participants learn to work through loss while also understanding and learning effective coping strategies. By discussing shared experiences in a safe, judgment-free environment, participants are less likely to feel alone in their grieving process.
Other important benefits of grief therapy groups include:
- Building a sense of community and belonging
- Increasing feelings of hopefullness
- Helping participants work through their own grief by listening to others who share similar experiences
- Participants learn to express their emotions and uncover their vulnerabilities in a supportive and safe environment
Although more research is needed in the area of grief recovery groups, the general consensus in current literature confirms that this type of counselling can be a beneficial part of a person’s grieving process. It’s important to note, however, individuals who did not find success in a group setting may be due to unhelpful group dynamics (e.g., jealousy, shame, judgment), withholding thoughts or feelings, or competitive expressions.
Experiencing a sense of hope and belonging can be transformational for a person — especially for those who are experiencing immense pain and sadness from grief. As we grieve the loss of a loved one, it’s common to have limited support networks to help us the way we need. For this reason, meeting others who are also grieving can validate our experiences and join us along the journey towards recovery.
Attending group therapy can normalize your grieving process which helps people feel more capable of facing their hardships. Participants learn that although it’s going to be challenging, all the thoughts, feelings, and experiences are all to be expected. Additionally, as you listen to the stories from your peers in the group, you have the unique opportunity to learn beneficial strategies that have worked for others.
For those experiencing complex or longer-lasting grief, it may also be beneficial to transition into individual counselling for more support following the completion of a group program. Doing so can help you hone your coping skills and keep you on the right track towards grief recovery.
Working one-on-one with a counsellor can give you the space to address your conversations from the group and dive even deeper into a discussion about your thought process surrounding that session.
Much like group therapy, individual counselors draw upon specific research-based approaches to address grief. The major difference is that your individual counsellor can tailor these approaches for you. As you work one-on-one with your counselor, you will be able to address conversations from group therapy, ask specific questions, and express your vulnerabilities openly. Together, these sessions can bring about positive change in your grieving process.
As mentioned earlier, every one of us experiences and processes our grief in a very different way. Although unique, so many of us can benefit from connecting with the shared experiences of others. What makes grief therapy groups so unique is that they help participants establish bonds and create genuine friendships with one another.
Whether you’re ready to start your journey or if you still have questions, we would love to hear from you. Start by booking a free consultation where you can chat with an experienced counsellor as early as today!
Written by Laura Anderson BA, MA, MSW, RSW