Hospice Foundation of America

Should I Go to a Support Group

By Kenneth J. Doka, PhD

When I counsel bereaved people, they frequently ask if I think they would benefit from a support group. I answer the question with one of my own: “What do you expect to gain?”

Support groups are a time-tested method of help for people struggling with all sorts of difficulties. They have evolved from a model that sought to inhibit certain behaviors, such as drinking, to a model that tries to enhance and support individuals as they adapt to life issues.

Groups are not magic. There are no words that can be uttered within a group setting that can make grief disappear. Groups are places to work together to support one another; they are places where one gives as one takes, and this is very important, because sometimes individuals can be so needy in their loss that they have nothing to give. In such cases, individual counseling may be the best approach.

Not everyone will find a support group suitable; each individual grieves in his or her own way. Support groups, though, have much to offer. They can offer, for example, a sense of validation. After all, grief can be so isolating. One is besieged by so many reactions: physical, emotional, and spiritual. One needs a place to sort out all these reactions—to recognize that they are part of the journey of grief. In counseling, I am often asked, “Am I going crazy?” Support groups reaffirm that one is not going crazy; one is simply grieving.

While every loss is unique, through support groups, one can bask in the support of others who have some basis of empathy. They have experienced loss. They understand. They know. Also, groups provide some time away. For many people, their support group can be a break in the loneliness and the boredom that are a daily part of grief.

Support groups offer suggestions for coping with the difficulties of grief. There is no one solution to dealing with loss; however, support groups can offer a range of alternatives. By listening to stories of how others coped with a particular problem, one can find solutions that may work best.

Some groups can even be advocates—by working to change laws or challenging social conventions. For example, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) re-formed the way the law treats driving while intoxicated. Support groups offer two other gifts. They provide hope by providing models that reaffirm that one can survive loss. Also, they reaffirm that in helping others, one helps oneself. One finds, even in the midst of grief, new empathy, new understandings, and renewed strengths.

Copyright 2008 Hospice Foundation of America. All Rights Reserved.

Q: My father has cancer and his physician has recommended hospice. My family has very little financial resources. How is hospice care paid for?

A: Hospice care is a covered benefit under Medicare for patients with a prognosis of 6 months or less. Medicaid covers hospice services in most states. Many private health insurance policies and HMO's offer hospice coverage and benefits. Hospice services are also covered under TRICARE. Frequently, hospice expenses are less than conventional care expenses during the last six months of life.


Top Tip

Realize that you do not have to struggle alone. We all can share our grief with family and friends. Seek help from clergy or counselors. Hospices and funeral homes may be able to suggest mutual support groups. And librarians and bookstores can recommend books that can assist as you grieve.

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