Grief Support Group Didn’t Help – Now What?

Question from a reader:  I feel very comfortable on the online forum I’ve joined and have already received great support from the people there. They encourage and inspire me. I’m learning a lot from those who’ve inhabited this world of grief longer than I have. That’s why it would be good to hear your thoughts on the following issue. The forum helps me, but I feel I need additional counseling. I met individually with a grief counselor from the hospice where my husband died and she encouraged me to come to one of their local support group meetings. I went, but hearing the other group members’ sad stories made me feel uncomfortable, and even more depressed than I already was. (For some reason, hearing the stories of the people on the forum doesn’t have those effects.) I know that support group meetings aren’t right for everybody. But should I go to at least one more meeting before giving up on them? Individual counseling seems like a better fit for me, but I’d probably have to ask the hospice to assign me to a new counselor since the person I talked with before doesn’t seem to want to meet with me privately.  Should I give the support group another chance, or follow my instincts and seek individual counseling?

My response:  The fact that you found it difficult to be in an “in person” grief support group at this point in your grief journey is not at all unusual, for the very reasons you describe: Your husband died barely six weeks ago, you’ve only just begun to confront the harsh realities of this profound loss, and you may not feel ready yet to “be there” for others in their pain. That’s why we usually suggest that mourners wait a few months after the death of a loved one before joining an “in person” support group, until they’re a bit further “down the road” and feel strong enough to listen to other people’s stories of loss. (Even as I say this, however, it’s important to bear in mind that everyone is different in this regard; some people are more “group-oriented” than others, and such folks are quite comfortable and do quite well in a group setting right away. Like everything else in grief, no one “rule” applies to everyone.)

You say that hearing the stories of the people on this forum doesn’t make you feel uncomfortable or even more depressed, but I think that has to do with the fact that here you can come and go as you choose, and if you prefer, you can also remain in the background, as hidden and anonymous and invisible as you want to be.

Depending on where you are in your own grief process, you may not feel the need for a support group just yet, but that may change over time. There is no right or wrong time to come to a meeting, but if you decide to do so, you might try coming to several meetings rather than just one, since each one changes depending on the composition of the group and what is discussed in it.

Once you’ve found a support group, make sure it’s made up of mourners with whom you can identify, whose facilitator is not only comfortable running support groups, but also knowledgeable about the grief process. Many hospices provide ongoing grief support groups at various times and locations throughout their communities. If none of these groups suits you or fits with your schedule, the bereavement staff will help you find alternatives offered by other organizations in the community. (See, for example, Look to Your Hospice for Grief Support.)

You say that right now it feels as if individual counseling would be a better fit for you, so it seems to me that you’ve already answered your own question. You know yourself better than anyone else does, and it’s important that you do what feels right for you.

Even if you’re mourning in a normal, healthy way, it is wise to use all the resources available to help you recover your balance and put your life back together again. Sometimes friends and family may worry too much about you, or get too involved in your personal affairs, or not be available to you at all. When it seems that support from friends and family is either too much or not enough, a few sessions with a bereavement counselor may give you the understanding and comfort you need.

Unlike friendship, an individual counseling relationship offers you the opportunity to relate to a caring, supportive individual who understands the grief process, doesn’t need you to depend upon, and will allow you to mourn without interference. Within the safety and confidentiality of a therapeutic relationship, you can share your intimate thoughts, make sense of what you’re feeling, and clarify your reactions.

An effective bereavement counselor is knowledgeable about the grief process, helps you feel understood, offers a witness to your experience, encourages you to move forward, fosters faith that you will survive, and offers hope that you will get through your mourning. You said the counselor with whom you’ve met “doesn’t seem to want to meet with me privately.” If that is the case, if you don’t sense that this counselor has a good understanding of your particular needs, or doesn’t seem like the person who can help you, you should feel free to try another counselor.

Again, I encourage you to contact the bereavement office of your local hospice for further information.

© 2011 by Marty Tousley, RN, MS, FT, DCC

Reach Marty through her Web sites, http://www.griefhealing.com and http://www.griefhealingdiscussiongroups.com, or her Blog, http://griefhealingblog.com/

Marty Tousley

More Articles Written by Marty

As both a bereaved parent and a bereaved daughter herself, Marty Tousley, RN, MS, FT, DCC has focused her practice on issues of grief, loss and transition for more than 40 years. She joined Hospice of the Valley in Phoenix, AZ as a Bereavement Counselor in 1996, and for ten years served as moderator for its innovative online grief support forums. She obtained sole ownership of the Grief Healing Discussion Groups in October, 2013, where she continues to serve as moderator. A frequent contributor to health care journals, newsletters, books and magazines, she is the author of Finding Your Way through Grief: A Guide for the First Year: Second Edition, The Final Farewell: Preparing for and Mourning the Loss of Your Pet, and Children and Pet Loss: A Guide for Helping. She has written a number of booklets for Hospice of the Valley including Explaining the Funeral /Memorial Service to Your Children and Helping Another in Grief, as well as monthly columns, e-books and online e-mail courses for Self-Healing Expressions, addressing various aspects of grief and loss. With her special interest in grief and the human-animal bond, Marty facilitated a pet loss support group for bereaved animal lovers in Phoenix for 15 years, and now serves as consultant to the Pet Loss Support Group at Hospice of the Valley and to the Ontario Pet Loss Support Group in Ontario, Canada. Her work in pet loss and bereavement has been featured in the pages of Phoenix Magazine, The Arizona Republic, The East Valley Tribune, Arizona Veterinary News, Hospice Horizons, The Forum (ADEC Newsletter), The AAB Newsletter, Dog Fancy Magazine, Cat Fancy Magazine, Woof Magazine and Pet Life Magazine. Marty’s Grief Healing website and blog offer information, comfort and support to anyone who is anticipating or mourning the loss of a loved one, whether a person or a cherished companion animal. She is certified as a Fellow in Thanatology (Death, Dying and Bereavement) by the Association for Death Education and Counseling, as a Distance Credentialed Counselor by the Center for Credentialing and Education, and as a Clinical Specialist in Adult Psychiatric/Mental Health Nursing Practice by the American Nurses Association. Marty and her husband Michael have two grown sons and four grandchildren. They spend their winters in Scottsdale, AZ and Sarasota, FL, and enjoy their summers in Traverse City, MI. Marty welcomes reader questions and comments, and can be contacted at [email protected] or through her Web sites, at GriefHealing.com, GriefHealingBlog.com, and GriefHealingDiscussionGroups.com.

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  • Susan W Reynolds says:

    The key for me was your comment about like minded in grief group and also effective counselor. Often one or two persons take control of a session and others stories or inquiries are not addressed. One can feel even more isolated when this type of session is experienced. Trying a ” neutral” activity that you enjoyed in the past might spur a connection to share and gain support, such as book club, photography class or dance class. Trust your gut.. Some groups you may leave but you will find one that calls you back and supports you and you them.

  • Marty Tousley says:

    Good points all, Susan ~ thank you!