The Role of Grief Group Facilitators

Technically, there are two types of grief groups. Informational and support groups are for individuals who have an interest in the grief process. The purpose of these groups is to promote grief education and awareness. It covers the grief process in a more academic fashion.

The second type of grief group is a process and personal growth oriented group focusing on facilitating the individual participant's own personal loss management. It is therapeutic in nature and can take many different forms including: Individuals, Couples, Father's, Mother's, Siblings, and Family groups. Each group typically focuses on a specific type of loss (death-loss, suicide, homicide, SIDS, divorce, etc) as well as the unique needs of the group members. Though many commonalities exist between these groups each has its own unique dynamics and concerns. We will be focusing on this type of group, sometimes referred to as Grief Recovery groups. I prefer the term "Grief Management".

Before we can help people manage their grief, we need to understand the term "manage." Manage can mean to succeed in doing something, especially something that seems difficult or impossible. The intransitive verb means to survive or continue despite difficulties, especially a lack of resources. Both of these variant meanings apply to managing grief. "Healing" on the other hand implies a restoration to a former state. Though we are talking semantics, it is important to understand that loss leaves a permanent void; a permanent part of the survivor is missing, never to be restored.

Grief

Grief is characterized by confusion in which it is difficult to pinpoint feelings. Dozens of emotional reactions occur simultaneously. Analyzing the parts of grief can help the person to segregate one feeling from another. Once a feeling is identified, it can be expressed. It can be brought out into the open where healing takes place.

Grief not only causes many physical reactions, but it is accompanied by many practical, social, philosophical, and spiritual problems as well. A person may not receive or expect to receive answers to the problems, but he/she should certainly have the chance to voice the questions. There are answers and solutions to many problems in grief. When time is taken to do problem solving, the instances of unresolved grief are reduced.

Given proper support, grievers are enabled to move to a state of peace and acceptance. This is the goal of Grief Management groups.

Group Leaders/Facilitators:

When working with grieving individuals in a group, you must be clear about your role in the process. As grief facilitators we assume important responsibilities. The bereaved should be able to expect a high degree of professionalism from us. It is necessary for us to have a working knowledge of the grief process, group dynamics, and the impact significant loss has on the psyche. Active listening and helping skills are extremely important. We listen empathetically to their stories, give validation, interpret the emotional content, and translate it into the language of grief.

All Grief Facilitators must:

Be open to what grievers can teach you about grief and mourning. Understand that the focus of attention during group is on each member's journey through their own particular grief work. The group exists for their benefit. Our job is to create the environment, set the course, and steer the group process within the boundaries of mutual respect and purposeful dialogue. It is beneficial to everyone to stay "on task" and "on topic."

Accept all group members unconditionally, "as they are." We are not there to "do therapy" with them. We cannot take away their pain or in any way "fix" their lives. Each person's viewpoint is appropriate because it is formed from his or her own personal knowledge and experiences with life up to this moment in time. Our job is to listen without judging and offer new understanding and perspective. We can validate their feelings as they tell about their experiences. We can help them to externalize their thoughts. We can assist with bringing feelings to the surface. We can facilitate expression in the language of grief.

Be open to the idea that most often it is within the context of sharing and discussion that we also teach. For example, we may use what a mother shares as a way to teach the common denominators of grief and mourning. As facilitators we may ask: "Has anyone else felt like Saundra feels?" or "feelings of isolation are experienced by many people, Nicole, tell us more about how it feels for you," or "It sounds like what Grant is saying about feeling guilty is similar to Gail's experience. Can anyone else add to that?" or "What other feelings are a normal part of grieving?"

Our expectation is that this kind of interactive sharing will bring them new information, new experience, and new insight that will promote positive healing. The main aspect to remember though is to "keep the ball in their court." It is their life, their feelings, and their job to do the grief work. Be attuned to each griever, to the feelings behind his/her words, and to the overall atmosphere in the room. We want each participant to have an equal chance to be heard. Each participant deserves the full attention of the group while sharing. We make every effort to include everyone in all activities and discussions, while still allowing them the freedom to refrain or "pass" if they choose.

Recognize that your role is to help the bereaved understand and then move through the tasks of grief. Covering this agenda is desirable; however, "the best laid plans" may go out the window in favor of the agenda that the griever brings to the session. It is important to work through their immediate concerns and burdens. We want to stay flexible. We remind ourselves that we can almost always expect unfinished business at the end of each session. In my experience and in the experience of many colleagues, it has been found that planned topics, tasks, and curriculum ultimately get covered in a natural and spontaneously relevant way.

Be willing to share your role as facilitator. As your group evolves, some members will probably exert themselves as unofficial co-facilitators. Encourage them. Go with the immediate flow (dynamic). The skill, of course, is to intervene and redirect when the dynamic is not healthy.

Understand that the atmosphere of each group session may be distinctively varied. The temperaments, personalities, and experiences of everyone present will be significant factors in how the group interacts. Do not be surprised or discouraged by the variations in the mood from one session to the next. Sometimes we worry that no "progress" is being made or that we have "lost control." Other times the group is so quiet that it is like "pulling teeth" to get a response or, in contrast, they may digress to any other topic rather than "deal with the grief." It is frustrating! We continually relearn to deal with our lofty expectations by replacing them with more gentle assessments of what is being accomplished. Each group can have a different flavor and still be highly effective, even if at the onset we had our doubts that the group would ever "gel." Our own hindsight and the members' evaluations at the end of the series often reveal and affirm the value of each group's process.

A Word of Caution

There is a fine line between strong group facilitating and strong-arming or dominating your group. While members will appreciate your nurturing leadership, they will not appreciate too tight a rein on the group's interaction. Sometimes that means letting the group dynamic dictate what will happen next. Other times your "gentle firmness" will be welcomed as you guide the group in discussion.

I have found the most effective facilitators in grief management groups lead unobtrusively but firmly. That is, they are warm and responsive and at the same time they make others feel comfortable that someone is "in charge."

Rev. Saundra L. Washington, D.D., is an ordained clergywoman, veteran social worker, and Founder of AMEN Ministries. She is also the author of two coffee table books: Room Beneath the Snow: Poems that Preach and Negative Disturbances: Homilies that Teach which can be reviewed on her site. Her new book, Out of Deep Waters: My Grief Management Workbook, is expected to be available in July.

You are welcome to visit AMEN Ministries: Your Souls' service Station for spiritual refreshing, soul edification or to browse our newly expanded mini shopping mall. http://www.clergyservices4u.org

Blessings to all!

More Resources

Unable to open RSS Feed $XMLfilename with error HTTP ERROR: 404, exiting

More Coaching Information:

Related Articles

Curbing the Public Nuisance (Part 2)
Yes, that pillar of society that has been with us since that slithery dude threw humanity for a curve in the Garden of Eden - that cornerstone of society has been automated.I am speaking, of course, of the public nuisance ( I wrote about him in Part 1 at http://www.
Crisis: Danger or Opportunity?
I have often heard motivational speakers say that the word crisis in Chinese means both danger and opportunity. In investigating the facts, I have found running arguments on the web as to whether or not this is true.
Pecked to Death By Ducks
Ever been in a situation where it seems like minor criticisms are all you hear? Sure, there are things you could improve, you know that . .
How Does Sports Coaching Differ from Corporate Coaching?
Athletes Versus EmployeesMost athletes are young, open to improvement, eager to learn and anxious to receive what a coach can provide. For the athlete, there is a defined season and something tangible to compete for.
Attention! Thought Crossing! - Or, The Secret of What's Between Your Ears
What are you thinking - right now? 'I'm reading your article!' you say. Well, take a little bit of a closer look.
How to be Your Authentic Self
Most of us play many different roles in the course of any given day. We could be Mom, Boss, Employee, Student or Friend, to name just a few.
A Numbers Game!
Three years ago, Paul left his corporate job to launch his freelance writing career, and he's done relatively well. He has a group of regular clients that keep him going, and they are happy with his work.
How to Get a Grip on Your Money
Most people have no idea where their money goes. They earn it and they spend it.
Five Steps to Vocational Passion: A Disciplined Plan for Major Mid-life Changes
There's a famous song lyric that asks: "Is that all there is?" Every seven seconds, an American turns 50 years old. So there's a good chance that song is running through some of their heads.
The Right Time and Place
(Channelled)Roy?I am sending you this quote from Sōtō Zen, Dōgen's Shōbōgenzō Zuimonki, please read it.Once someone advised Dōgen to go to Easter Japan if he wanted to see Buddhism prosper.
Dont Settle
Settling is about not embracing what is best for you, and accepting what you really don't want. When you settle, you accept less than you deserve.
Just Listen, Please!
When did you last do that? When did you last listen to yourself? Is there a small voice inside you calling out "Just listen to me" Just listen. Please".
Personal Development Profiles
Personal development profiles, also known as personality profiles, are a tool I frequently use before starting a course of coaching with a client. The client answers a series of questions about preferred behaviour styles and their responses generate a report which outlines their strengths, areas for improvement, blind spots, their contribution to the team, ways they could improve their communication and how to deal with challenging people.
The Story "From the Chicken Coop"?
Many years ago my grandfather, had a small farm andchickens. One morning he sent me out to the chicken coop tocollect fresh eggs.
Parts that Make the Whole? or Not
There are many parts that make up you.There's the Musical You, the Friendly You, the Amazing You, the Genius You, the Calm You, the Peaceful You, and many more parts that make up who you are - much like an identity check list:All round good guy/gal part - checkUniquely amazing you part - checkWitty and intelligent part - checkLovable and charming part - checkMoody and indecisive part - who me??? Never?Selfish and greedy part - not me! Never?Self opinionated - Nope, not me! Never?We all have wonderful attributes; we also have parts not so wonderful which we'd rather keep hidden but really, it's okay to acknowledge we have both.
5 Tips to Improve ANY Performance
Seeking improved performance at work? Wishing you could finally achieve your sports-related goals? Merely looking for a way to get more out of everything you do? What follows are five basic skills (basic in that all top achievers know these skills and apply them in some form on a weekly basis) that will dramatically improve your performance.1.
Receiving Thanks and Praise - The View from the Other Side
We demand more from those who provide to us and because we are frequently in roles which deliver goods and services ourselves, we are on the receiving end too - of complaints, frustrations and generally poor behaviour.Why is it that when we are on the receiving end, we miss the fact that we ourselves, when we hang up our service-provider-hat at the end of our shift, often end up as 'customers behaving badly' too?Why do we take our own frustrations out on others, the way it has been taken out on us? Why do we sometimes become the Hyde from our normal Jekyll?So, when someone goes the 'extra mile' to say 'Thank you', or appreciate the actions you have taken? What do you take from that and how do you react? You feel good, I guess.
Do You Trust Your Mentor(s)?
It is better to suffer wrong than to do it, and happier to be sometimes cheated than not to trust." - Samuel JohnsonI was on a tele-seminar recently with International Health Coach Jeremy Likness and he asked a very interesting question about Trust.
Are You Addicted To Your Activities?
Activities - such as sports, creative projects, reading, work, TV, meditation - can be a wonderful way to relax, express yourself, or connect to yourself. Or they can be an addiction.
How To Overcome Stuck States In Personal Growth
Although many of us use self-help tools like affirmations, visualizations, NLP techniques, and spiritual invocations, we sometimes find that nothing happens. This, to say the least, is disheartening.