Is A Grief Support Group Right For You?

By Heather Stang, MA, C-IAYT

Updated: March 29, 2020

Posted: August 29, 2017

There are many ways to receive grief support including online grief support groups and in-person grief support groups. You can also seek out individual grief counseling, and other grief therapies: yoga for grief, grief writing groups, meditation for grief, and spiritual or religious programs.

While grief is a natural reaction to loss and in many instances does not require professional intervention, you may find compassionate caring support from others useful, particularly if you are not getting enough support — or are getting too much of the wrong kind of support — from well-meaning friends and family. Below is an overview of the different approaches so you can better understand which grief support group is right for you.

Online Grief Support Group Benefits

The online grief support group I facilitate is called Awaken, which blends live online video conferences with self-paced meditation for grief courses and a Private Facebook Group where we can check in. We stay emotionally connected through technology, and have a safe space to discuss our grief, learn and share tips for coping with loss, share stories of our loved ones, and create a healthy lifestyle even in the wake of loss.

Awaken participants and myself agree that we feel a strong bond within the group, perhaps through the addition of video. One concern I had when I first started an online grief group was that participants won’t feel the same type of connection to others as compared to its in-person counterpart. However, I find that is not the case. And in this time of social distancing, it is nice that we have a community already in place.

When I started our first meeting, I had the video feature turned off for everyone except myself, as I wanted to respect the participant’s privacy. I was surprised when, one by one, the majority of the members turned on their webcams. Now we look forward to “seeing” each other during our weekly calls.

online grief support group right for you

Online Grief Support Forums

Online grief support forums allow you to dip in and out of the group at your own pace. You can share when you want to, or simply lurk, read other people’s posts, or only read responses to your own content.

The benefit of an online grief forum is that you can take action when you feel like it. Downsides include a delay between your post and receiving the support you need, or forgetting to log in altogether due to the forum’s passive nature.

Another type of online grief support group blends the time-bound nature of an in-person group, but uses technology, such as video conferencing instead of a conference room, to host the meetings. You may also have access to a members-only grief support forum or Facebook group. This approach can be convenient, especially if you feel you are not up to driving, or if you don’t live close to an in-person support program.

In-person grief support groups

Note: Because of COVID-19 Pandemic, many in-person support groups are offered online or have disbanded.

In-person grief support groups give you the opportunity to hear how other people are experiencing grief, which might help you feel more at ease. Sometimes grief can make you feel like you are losing your mind, and while you wouldn’t wish that on another person, there can be comfort in finding out you aren’t the only one!

Depending on the nature of the group and the boundaries set by the facilitator, you may find some new friends who understand your loss experience, and with whom you can build an ongoing relationship.

The down side to an in-person group is that you may not feel strong enough to listen to other people’s stories, particularly if you are in the first few months of grief (not that there is a timeline on this—it is different for everyone). If you lean towards being an introvert, an in-person group may require precious energy and may leave you feeling depleted. Additionally, the time or location of the group may be inconvenient, or you may be so exhausted from your grief that driving is not wise.

When is a grief support group not right for you?

As mentioned above, you may not have the energy it takes to participate in a grief support group if your loss is recent. It may be more skillful to focus on the basics—getting enough sleep, eating regular meals, and drinking water—until you feel you are ready to interact with others. That being said, talk to the group facilitator first. Some groups help you address those basic survival needs.

If you are experiencing trauma, an active addiction, or have mental health concerns, it may be wise to speak with your mental health counselor or a grief professional prior to joining a group.

Be wary of any group that tells you there is a “right way” to grieve, or that goes against your own values. Your grief experience is as unique as the relationship you had with the person that died, so listen to your intuition.

Grief Support Group Resources

is a grief support group right for you

Heather Stang, MA, C-IAYT

About the author

Heather Stang, M.A. is the author of Mindfulness & Grief. She holds a Masters degree in Thanatology (Death, Dying, and Bereavement) from Hood College in Maryland, and is a certified Yoga Therapist. She is on the Advisory Board for the highly regarded military family survivor organization Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) and is a faculty member of the Portland Institute of Loss & Transition, founded by Dr. Robert A. Neimeyer. She is also the host of the Mindfulness & Grief Podcast, founder of the Mindfulness & Grief Institute and the Frederick Meditation Center in Maryland.

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