“When should I seek grief support?” It’s a common, and valid question. The answer: ”It depends.”
The emotional suffering you feel when someone you love is taken away is a natural response to loss. The more significant the loss, the more intense the grief will be. Sometimes it may feel like the pain will never end. Many factors affect the grieving process including your personality, life experience, coping style, and the nature of the loss.
Grief is a very personal and individual journey, with no timetable. Sometimes, we hit bumps in the road. We travel up mountains, down into valleys, and through storms. Other times, the road is easy, and the sun shines. Stretches of difficult terrain may be brief or long lasting. And how well we manage all of this is different for every individual – regardless of age.
Some people find comfort in support groups soon after a death. Others need to allow more time to pass – they need to move away from the raw grief – before they are able to join a group. Understanding the purpose of a support group, and what to expect from it, can help you decide if and when the time is right.
Support groups are different from group therapy. In general, support groups are led by trained volunteers or group members, while therapy groups are always facilitated by licensed professionals such as marriage and family therapists, nurses, psychologists, psychiatrists, and social workers. Group therapy is usually longer in duration, more involved, and focused on in-depth personal growth. In contrast, support groups focus on learning to manage current concerns and situations. Most support groups involve little or no cost to the participants, while there is often a fee for group therapy. At Good Grief, support groups are led by trained volunteer facilitators, and are always free. We do not offer therapy groups or counseling.
People generally seek out a group because they are looking for advice or reassurance from others who have been through similar situations. It’s important to remember that everyone in the group is seeking the same basic things: validation of their feelings of sadness, anger, guilt, relief, and frustration; ways to cope with the tremendous loss and the changes to daily life that the loss created; and hope for a future with less pain and more joy.
Support groups create, by definition, a reciprocal relationship among the participants in which each person gives and receives help by sharing their experiences and feelings with each other. Through a support group, we learn that we are not alone. We connect with others who are experiencing similar feelings and with whom they can identify, and we provide each other with encouragement to continue moving forward.
The Mayo Clinic says the benefits offered by support groups are unmatched and unlimited for a person struggling with an issue. People get something different out of the same meeting, depending on where they are in their experience and how willing they are to accept help. Benefits from joining and participating in a support group are:
- Feeling less lonely, isolated, or judged
- Gaining a sense of empowerment and control
- Improving coping skills and adjustment
- Engaging in an opportunity to talk openly and honestly about personal feelings
- Reducing distress, depression, or anxiety
- Gaining a clearer understanding of what to expect with one’s situation
Knowing what to expect, understanding what a support group is and what it is not, can help you decide when the time is right. If you are a parent or caregiver for children or teens, it’s important to recognize that their timetable may be different from yours. They may be ready for peer support before you, and that’s okay. On the other hand, pushing them to attend a group when they are not ready, can be counterproductive. Of course, we never know if it will help unless we try, so if you are thinking about joining a group, we encourage you to attend a few sessions, giving yourself and the group a chance to get comfortable with each other, to see if it is right for you.