DAAC 2354: DYNAMICS OF GROUP COUNSELING
Human Services student Cindy Allsbrooks offers a well-written support group proposal designed for parents whose lives have been shattered by the death of their child. As a parent who survived this painful experience, she offers additional insight to advance the structure and implementation of the group. Her methodically outlined session objectives and activities clearly address the fundamental elements of a grief support group with a research-based approach. Her proposal is written to engage readers who may not have a background in the counseling field.
– Cynthia Trumbo
Grief Group – Parents Who Lost Children
The purpose of this support group is to create a safe and nurturing environment where members can talk about their loss, share their thoughts and fears, and understand that they are not alone on their journey. The group will be a source of education as well. Learning the stages of grief can help bereaved parents to understand their feelings of anxiety and the sadness that so often leads to depression and despair. The members of this group will have the opportunity to share their own personal stories and discuss ways they can help each other through the healing process. The focus will be on emotional recovery. The group will consist of parents only, with a recommendation that any surviving children attend a siblings group.
Grief Group – Parents Who Lost Children (GGPWLC) will meet once a month at the local community club house which can accommodate up to seventy-five people. However, it is unlikely that there will ever be more than twenty or so at any one meeting. The meetings will be held the first and third Thursdays of every month from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. GGPWLC will meet for an unlimited time and as long as there are members who show up.
Often a bereaved parent will avoid seeking counseling or a grief support group because coping with loss is a deeply personal and singular experience. (The Five Stages of Grief, 2014) When a parent cannot reach out, a family member might attend meetings to learn how they can help their loved one in the grief process. The location of a grief group could factor in to whether a person will attend the meetings. It might be too difficult for a parent who lost a child after a lengthy hospital stay to go back to a hospital for a grief group. An individual who is not religious, or even lost their faith after a child’s death, may avoid going to a church.
The rationale for this type of group is that we all need a support system as we move through the grief journey. Friends and family are important but may not be a good resource because they may not fully understand how to help if they have not experienced this type of loss. A grief group can provide unconditional support in a culture that is uncomfortable talking about loss, especially when it comes to the loss of a child. (Benefits of Grief Support Group, 2010) In a grief support group there seems to be an instant connection in a non-elite club which no one would ever choose to be a part of.
1) To teach members coping skills which can lead to hope and finding a new normal., 2) To help members understand how children and other family members may react to loss., 3) To provide literature on the topics of grief (the loss of a child) and other resources for the bereaved parent., 4) To provide support and encouragement that it’s okay to grieve in your own way and to eventually live a happy and productive life.
Rights and expectations for this group are as follows: 1) Respect other members and their opinions, beliefs, and experiences. This group does not promote nor work against a religious belief. People of all faiths, or no faith, are welcome., 2) Please do not talk over one another and limit your discussion or questions to a reasonable time period so others may have a chance to share., 3) You are not required to talk but you are encouraged to do so., 4) Please maintain a certain amount of confidentiality when you leave the group, to exclude members names when talking to non-members about grief group.
The main qualification for an effective group leader in this type of group, is someone who has experienced the loss of a child, is further down the road in their grief journey and understands the process. The group leaders are always available to take phone calls around the clock. There may be others in the group who are further along as well, and can volunteer to take calls for the GGPWLC hotline.
As the leader of a grief group, it is important to understand that even though certain counseling theories could be used to help the members, they benefit the most by following the norms and by being a good listener. We allow time to listen and empathize as each member expresses their grief. A good leader will know when to suggest outside sources for an individual to get deeper counseling and will build a network of professionals to obtain advice on occasion.
Outline for Six Group Sessions
Each session will begin with a reminder of the norms and rounds. The members will say their name and then their child’s name, when the child died, and as an option, how the child died.
To someone who has never lost a child this round might seem unnecessary, however, it is why the members have come. They want and need to talk about their child. The rounds are important especially when there are new members. Then we move on to the topics of the meeting. Members may also submit topics on a note card that they would like to discuss in future meetings.
Purpose: Establish norms, introduction rounds, and discuss what the topics will be for future meetings. Ask all members to bring a picture of their child for our memory book which will be displayed in group every meeting.
Theme: You are not alone.
Activity: Getting to know where each member is in the grief process. A handout will be given to each member on the next meeting topic, the five stages of grief. (The Five Stages of Grief, 2014) They are asked to read the brochure and be ready to share, if willing, ways they have experienced one of the stages and what helped them through that stage.
Purpose: Discussion on the stages of grief. Covering the stages of grief cannot be completed in one session. We will start in session 2 and finish in session 3. The five stages are: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. It is important to have members identify which stage or stages they might be experiencing. It helps to know that all stages are normal and they can look different from one person to another.
Theme: Grief is a journey
Activity: Rounds begin as the members are invited to share their experience with denial.
Stage 1 – Denial is short lived albeit necessary to identify. It is a defense mechanism that buffers the immediate shock. I personally refer to it as the protection of one’s heart. Without denial, I wonder if one could even get through the first few days after the death of a child. Stage 2 – Anger is an important stage and should be discussed in depth. What does it look like for you? Can you identify when one of your actions came from anger? Anger after the death of a child can be easily displaced. Looking at the reality of any situation can help a member be more aware of their anger and how anger can affect their other relationships.
Purpose: Finish discussion of the five stages of grief. Stages Three, Four, and Five are covered in this session.
Theme: You’re not going crazy. For grief, this is normal.
Activity: Rounds to discuss the last three stages of grief: bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Bargaining is a reaction to feeling helpless and is often the need to regain control in your life. It is usually short lived. Depression is important to understand and identify. There are two types associated with mourning. There is the utter sadness of the situation that may come and go at any given time that I consider circumstantial. Then there is the more subtle and private depression that can last longer and require a doctor’s care, and possibly individual counseling. Acceptance is the last stage and it is the place we want to be. There is never a time frame on when a person will reach the acceptance stage. Some never do. Acceptance is not a period of happiness, but one of peace. Acceptance, in my opinion, simply means that we have allowed ourselves to feel our grief and have come to terms with our loss. We stress hope in all meetings. We can survive and we can be happy again.
Purpose: Learning how to honor our child’s memory during the holidays.
Theme: How will I get through the holidays without them?
Activity: We will start group rounds using a handout titled “An Emotional Wish List” (Alexy, 1989). Our discussion will be geared toward how we will get through the holidays.
We will also do a written activity. Each member will be given a piece of paper with two sentences to complete in their own words. Sentence 1: I want to spend the holidays …….
Sentence 2: I will honor my child’s memory this holiday season by ……
This activity will help the member identify where they are emotionally and how they can make the memory of their child a part of their holiday season. One of our biggest fears as a bereaved parent is that others will forget or not speak of our child as if they never existed.
Purpose: This meeting is to complete an activity that honors the memory of the child that died. The ceremony will be open to friends and family members.
Theme: Gone but not forgotten.
Activity: All members and their families to include surviving children, will meet at a local park for a candle lighting ceremony. Members are encouraged to bring a poem or a reading that reflects the importance of remembering our children. Candles are passed out after the readings. The candles are lit as each parent says the name of their child and the date of their death. We have a moment of silence. I think this type of ceremony is important for the first couple of years after the loss, maybe more. A balloon ceremony can also be another way to remember and celebrate our children. After the ceremony refreshments are offered.
Purpose: To help members understand their new normal. How do we know we are making progress on our journey? We will display and continue to add to the group’s memory book.
Theme: Getting through the first years.
Activity: Rounds and discuss topics. What is the member’s new normal? We can never go back to the time before our child died. Our life is different now but not over. Members are in different emotional places and are starting to learn how to be there for each other. They can see that time helps, little by little, and yet you never get over the loss. Members can talk about how their life is different. Maybe they don’t cry as often as they once did. They have learned that by helping others we have made greater strides in our own grief journey. In group, helping means to be a good listener and providing educational information that will help members understand the process.
Grief Group – Parents Who Lost Children is an ongoing group. The group will have long term members because they want to be there to help other newly bereaved parents. There will also be parents who will come for short periods of time and feel they have enough information to move forward. Some will come and find that they just can’t deal with a group that reminds them their child is dead. Grief is hard work and it lasts a lifetime. It does get easier after a while, but it never goes away. We can get to the acceptance stage and hopefully realize that our lives are as important as the child who went before us. We can learn to live our lives to the fullest while we hold on to the memory of our children.
The 5 Stages of Grief. (2014,November 8) Retrieved from http://psychcentral.com/lib/the-5-stages-of-loss-and-grief
Benefit of Grief Groups. (2010, February 18) Retrieved from http://www.hellogrief.org/benefits-of-grief-support-groups
Alexy, W. (1989) In “Tis The Season To Be Jolly” (pp. 1-2) Retrieved from http://www.nmsuicideprevention.org>2009/12