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The In's & Out's of Support Groups

Support groups: You've seen them in the movies & read about them in books. You can almost smell the burnt coffee & visualize the barren room with metal chairs seated in a circle. Support groups don't always have the best reputation-- because they're represented so poorly by the entertainment industry.

A lot of the time on "the big screen", we see a brooding main character sitting in a darkly-lit room. We can tell that they never wanted to participate in this group, but they had no choice because their therapist ordered them to attend. Based on their commentary, we can tell that they're feeling irritated and misunderstood, like they don't belong in the group. When going around the room, they hear the typical cliches like "everything happens for a reason", to which they respond by rolling their eyes--because they've heard it all before.

A lot of the time, this isn't how the groups actually operate. There are so many misrepresentations, and for a reason-- these groups have to be dramatized for the entertainment aspect-- the group has to be especially interesting and/or boring to advance the plot.

In actuality, support groups don't deserve their poor reputation, and we're here to bust the myths & stigmas, and tell you what you should really expect when you participate in your next group.

What's Wrong with the TV Portrayal?

There's a lot wrong with the portrayal of support groups on TV shows. For starters, most people choose to attend support groups-- they're not necessarily being forced by their therapists to attend. This voluntary act of going to the group usually means that they're wanting to participate & receive something positive from it. Even more, when they're voluntarily going, they're not there to judge others and instead they're looking for mutual understanding and support.

Another thing-- the groups are meant to be empowering, but a lot of groups avoid the "cliche lines", because most people don't find them helpful. It's true that a good group doesn't only provide a space to vent about the bad-- they also offer a place to share about the good. Most groups will try to end on a "good" note by offering some guidance for self-improvement-- but they won't end things by saying "everything happens for a reason".

Finally, these support groups aren't usually held in a dark, dingy basement (nor do they usually smell of burnt-coffee). Most groups that I've seen have been held in well-lit, comfortable rooms and most groups also avoid coffee altogether because the stimulant-effects can actually impact the group dynamic.

Sure--support groups aren't for everyone and sometimes you have to try a few before you find one that sticks, but they can actually be extremely helpful to someone who recently lost a loved one. You'll never know until you try it and as the famous proverb goes:

"Try a thing you haven't done three times. Once, to get over the fear of doing it. Twice, to learn how to do it. And a third time to figure out whether you like it or not." - Virgil Thomson

That brings me to my next question-- if support groups aren't like what we see in the movies, what can you expect when you attend one?

What Does a Support Group Look Like?

There's really no clear answer to this question because support groups vary so much. Some groups are led by professional counselors or therapists, and others are led by peers. Some groups have workbooks and activities (like writing prompts), while others are purely focused on discussion. Some groups are religious, whereas others are open to all religions or non-religions. Finally, some groups allow drop-ins and some are registration-only.

While all groups differ, they have one thing in common: They're all meant to offer a safe & supportive environment for people who have similar experiences to share stories, discuss challenges & find acceptance.

What's Different about Widow Care Groups?

At Widow Care, our groups are very open & organic. We do have some similarities to the groups in the movies: we have the typical tea/snacks set up at the back of the room, and we sit in a circle (albeit, we sit around a table vs. an open space). We take turns talking about individual experiences and losses, and we respect everyone by giving them our full attention when they talk. However, our group is also very unique in a few ways.

We don't have any trained counselors present, and instead we have a volunteer peer facilitator in the room to guide conversation. Rather than prompting participants with questions, the facilitator is mostly present to ensure that everyone is being respected.

Our groups are really focused on organic conversations in a supportive and safe environment, rather than a structured discussion where we talk about specific topics like holiday grief or dating again. We don't go counterclockwise and have everyone talk "in-order"-- we let people jump into the conversation when they have something to say, and let them sit back when they just want to listen.

Our support group might not be for everyone. If you're looking for a group that is therapist-led and highly structured, this might not be the group for you. However, if you are looking for a group that is relaxed, open & welcoming--you should try it out. It's free to attend, and we just ask that you try to register beforehand, but we also allow for drop-ins as well.

Check out the list of upcoming support groups here, and RSVP today!

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