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Should I do Individual Grief Counseling or a Grief Support Group?

Whatever it is that brings you to therapy, whether it is for personal growth, processing tragedy, coping with a life transition, a mental health tune-up, or any other reason, sometimes it can feel a little overwhelming to decipher what type of support will best fit your needs.

Let’s explore the differences between individual grief counseling versus participating in a grief support group.

Individual Grief Counseling:

Engaging in individual therapy with a trained grief counselor includes speaking with someone who is knowledgeable in the field of grief and is unbiased with regards to your experiences. They are very familiar with grief processing, therefore your grief won’t “scare” them. And they only know your grief story through your sharing. They are an ally to you in your processing.

A good grief counselor won’t place judgments on you or make assumptions about your experiences. As a result, there might be an ease to sharing more personal information, things that might feel unsettling or embarrassing to share with people who know you in other ways. It can feel freeing to share in a safe, unbiased, nonjudgmental, and confidential space.

Trained and licensed mental health professionals are bound by ethical codes . They honor confidentiality and privacy. Ultimately, no one else has to know that you are in therapy unless you choose to share that information with others. The only time this may change is in a few select circumstances where the therapist is required to break confidentiality for safety reasons as a mandated reporter. Otherwise, what happens in therapy stays in therapy.

When experiencing the uncontrollable nature of grief, sometimes it’s nice to feel like there’s one place where you have a sense of control – you share what you want to share, and it stays contained.

The trained professional you choose as your therapist, counselor or coach will work with you to customize your therapy, to make sure that therapy works for you. Use of modalities, interventions, and pacing will go with what’s comfortable for you individually. You will be invited to provide feedback and ask questions to help your therapist maintain alignment with you and your needs and goals.

It’s important that you feel comfortable with the professional support person you choose. Building a trusting rapport is an important part of the therapeutic process for the success of any therapy, and it does take a little time. You are invited to research the professionals in your area by contacting through email or phone call to make sure that their approach aligns with the kind of support you are looking for.

It’s also okay if you don’t know exactly what you need right away! You can still call around and get information before committing to a professional so you have more information and an idea of what to expect before you begin.

Some helpful questions to ask when you’re researching therapists:

o What specific grief counseling training have you had?

o How long have you been in the field? What is your credentialing?

o What is your therapeutic approach/style?

o Do you use any modalities aside from talk therapy?

o What does it cost to see you? Do you accept insurance and if so what kinds?

o What does your availability look like for individual sessions?

o What is the intake process to get started for individual counseling?

Working individually means your counselor will be focused solely on you during your sessions. Your grief experiences will be honored intimately between you and your counselor with undivided attention. Appointments will be scheduled between you and your counselor at the times that the two of you determine. Ultimately, you have a lot of say in your individual counseling. It can feel empowering.

Some disadvantages to individual grief counseling can include:

· Lack of opportunity to learn from others about their experiences.

· You will only have your own perspectives and any shared perspectives from your counselor present in the room.

· Being the sole focus of therapy can feel uncomfortable for some.

· Financially it can be more expensive than group counseling options.

Grief Support Groups:

Grief support groups can offer a sense of belonging and community. A cohesive group allows members to discuss collective challenges as well as individual issues specific to grief. It can give a sense of normalization in your grief experience, knowing that others have gone through something similar to you. You aren’t alone in your journey.

The trained grief group facilitator is there to help maintain flow, mediation, and support to all attendees of the group. A trained grief group facilitator can offer psychoeducation about grief (i.e. information about the specifics of grief from an academic lens) and are skilled in holding space to support the groups’ processing. Facilitators guide the group for cohesion, provide support and direction. Facilitators help engage the attendees in meaningful exchanges, helping to stay on-topic and give attendees the space for processing.

You get an opportunity within participation of a group to share information and learn from peers, helping each other as part of your own healing. There can be a natural sense of hope inspired from sharing in this space with other bereaved individuals - they "get it" because they've been there. You not only learn about others through the stories they share, but you also get to reflect and learn about yourself and your lived experiences in a different way.

Some helpful questions to ask when you’re researching grief support groups:

o What specific grief counseling training have you had as a grief group facilitator?

o How long have you been in the grief field? What is your credentialing?

o What is the style of the group you are facilitating? Is there a curriculum/what is the structure of the group?

o Are there openings at this time? When does the group meet and for how long?

o What does it cost to participate in the group? Do you accept insurance and if so what kinds?

o What is the intake process to get started in the group?

Some disadvantages to group counseling can include:

· Sharing in front of a group can feel uncomfortable for some individuals.

· Less opportunity for personal attention since the facilitator’s attention is split among all attendees.

· Some people may talk more than others and some groups can be too large or feel overwhelming.

· The pacing of the group depends on the attendees, so it could be too fast or too slow for some individuals.

· Confidentiality cannot be guaranteed by the facilitator since not all attendees will be bound by ethical regulations like the facilitator is.

For some people, being involved in both individual counseling and grief support groups can be of significant benefit to their overall grief processing.

The good news is that there are options for both!

Not all counselors are going to approach things the same way, and not all groups are designed the same. Connecting with either the right counselor or the right group (or both!) can be significant to your healing and growth. It can be helpful to speak with your counselor about options and what might be within your best interest for support. There is no right or wrong, it’s about what feels best for you.

If you are interested in grief counseling support, either for individual sessions or attending a grief group or workshop, please contact me at 720-619-1058 or for more information.

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