Leading Grief Groups: The Preliminaries


If you desire advertising the group, announcements need to go to the media at least six weeks prior to the beginning of the group. Most effective is either an article or listing under Grief/support groups in the local newspaper. At least once a year a mailing should go out to appropriate human services agencies listing the schedule and location of the meeting. Letters to clergy with an announcement attached requesting that it be placed in their church's bulletin or newsletter is another resource you may want to consider. Of course, advertising on your website and having it submitted to other related sites may also be beneficial. And do not forget the all important "word of mouth."

Pre-Group Interviews:

Requests for participation may be taken by phone or the mail. The group leader will need to talk with the prospective members individually before the first group meeting to determine appropriateness for the type of group being planned. Screening is crucial due to the surprising number of persons who desire attending for reasons other than working through their own losses. This is definitely not conducive to good group cohesion or facilitative of successful group outcome. Therefore it is important to question each person to ascertain the nature of the loss. If there is none, then attendance should be refused. Occasionally, you may want to allow an intern or a colleague to attend, but this should never exceed two persons. I prefer to exclude everyone who is not presently going through grief. A bonding process occurs among grievers much more easily if they know they are not being observed by those who aren't in the same boat. It fact, I would strongly suggest that you ask the group's permission before allowing anyone to attend and it must be a unanimous group decision.


Foremost, rooms need to be spacious (not huge), attractive and private. Distracting noise and activities are group killers. Try to locate a room that is bright and radiates a friendly ambiance. It is also important, if at all possible, that the room interior NOT be visible from outside or outside halls. Grieving people feel more secure when privacy is provided.

Though many conduct groups with seating arranged circular, I found it most expedient for participants to sit around tables. It offers grievers somewhere to write, sit a glass of water, lay their hands and arms or to hide their hands if they choose. If you plan to show films, or use a Blackboard, all things should be setup and ready before group members arrive. Ensure ventilation and room temperature is appropriate. Always have extra paper and pencils available. Take time to contemplate all the little details. Thorough preparation insures the comfort of your the grievers who will be in attendance.


The size of grief groups varies. If you are new to the Facilitator role, you may want to limit group to a size you feel comfortable with which should probably not exceed 10. You want a size that you feel you can comfortably manage and not allow to get out of control or unruly.

It has been suggested that the time for each group session be divided into a didactic and process period. Half of the time will be devoted to teaching and the other half to group processing. I have trouble with this concept. I have found it much more effective to allow the didactics and the group process to flow together. The concepts to be taught for the evening can usually be taught as an outgrowth of the group process. As you experience groups, you will determine what works best for you and your group members.

Group Name And Focus

Give your group a name. For example: "I Remember Momma," a name I gave a group consisting of members who had lost their mothers. Giving the group a title sounds professional and enables the public to identify the group in advertising.

Group Meetings

Determine how regularly you want to hold your groups. Typically, groups run for 6 weeks, 1 hour sessions. Some facilitators run groups for 8 - 10, even 12 weeks. In my experience, 6 weeks is more than sufficient. Beyond that, it seems redundant and suggest group members (and facilitator) may not desire "letting go" of the group.

Review Your Group's Goals

The goals for most grief management groups are for members to:

Believe the death really occurred.
Be willing to experience the pain.
Adjust to an environment without the deceased.
Withdraw the emotional energy invested in the relationship with the deceased and reinvest it in other relationships.
Make the decision to accept a new life.

If you have covered all these bases, you should be ready for the group to begin. Good Luck!!

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!

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