How to Start a Grief Support Group (Online or In Person)

Updated

Bereavement and online grief support groups can offer many benefits to someone who’s grieving the loss of a loved one or facing another type of significant setback. Online or in-person grief support groups can help normalize the effects of grief and the profound suffering that typically follows.

They also provide a safe, accessible, and non-judgmental space for a bereaved person to share their grief experience with others. 

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If you’re interested in providing a safe place for grieving persons to share their thoughts, feelings, and emotions following a loss, starting a grief support group might be an excellent way to do so.

Starting a grief support group online or in your community can be a rewarding experience for everyone involved. They are a convenient and cost-effective means of providing much-needed grief and social support to bereaved individuals who may feel lonely and isolated.

Below, you’ll find the needed information to get you started in setting up a grief support group either online or in person.

Steps for Setting Up a Grief Support Group

Depending on your goals and the community's needs, you’ve by now determined what’s the best approach for starting your very own grief support group. If you haven’t yet gotten that far, the following steps can help you plan and implement a support group that makes sense for you and consider your overall vision and goals. 

Here are some of the basic steps you’ll need to take to get your grief support group going. 

1. Plan your group

You'll first need to figure out why it is that you want to start a grief support group. Consider your motivations and the reasons behind your decision. Whatever the reason, it's typically not a good idea to create a support group based on your own needs.

However, you can use your experiences, education, and expertise to help others understand their losses by starting a support group that offers mutual support.

2. Determine the scope

Determining the scope of your group involves deciding whom you want to offer bereavement support. You’ll want to keep your focus broad enough so that you can help as many people as possible while also maintaining a more narrow niche in mind.

When you fail to set parameters around whom you’re interested in helping, your group can grow too large. A group with many members and no real focus can grow to be too large to be of any help.

3. Determine the duration

A huge factor in setting up a grief support group is how long it will last. Do you have an end goal in mind?

Or, are you wanting your group to go on indefinitely? Keep in mind that a group with no ending may consume much more of your time and resources than you had anticipated. You may want to consider planning a group with a definitive start and end date so that you can plan accordingly your group’s schedule and calendar. 

4. Figure out how often you’ll meet

Another significant consideration is figuring out how often your group will meet. Are you hoping to make this a once-a-week in-person or online group session? Or do you envision an ongoing online support group that’s open to anyone at any time?

Figure out your level of commitment to running the group and then decide on how often you’ll meet.

5. Find your format

Many times people start grief support groups without implementing a basic foundational structure or format. Not having a design for your group makes it difficult to gauge your group's overall progress in helping people who are grieving a loss. There are three standard support group formats to consider.

The first involves a curriculum-based structure where you assign readings to your group for future discussion. A topic-based format is one where you introduce a topic of discussion for the week. Having a preselected topic helps guide the conversation from meeting to meeting.

Finally, there's an open forum where there's no formal structure to the group's discussion. Conversations are led and determined by whatever the group's members feel like talking about that particular week.

6. Find a location

When your group meets in person instead of online, you’ll need to find a safe place to meet and a convenient time. Keeping things free or low-cost will benefit you and your group in the long run as meeting spaces can become expensive.

Consider holding your meetings at a local church, community center, public library, or hospital. You may want to plan for a larger room size than anticipated to accommodate a higher turnout than expected. Aim for a space that is something in between too large and too small. 

7. Do some marketing

A grief support group isn’t a group without any members. You’ll need to get the word out that your new group has formed and look for people who have a shared interest. Talk to people in your community and your social circles to get the word out that your group is forming and looking for new members.

You may want to advertise your support group with local hospitals, hospice care providers, nursing and funeral homes. You’ll need to advertise, promote, and remind people that your group exists, where and when you’ll meet, and who can join. 

ยป MORE: Grief is never linear. This post-loss checklist is here for you.

 

Tips for Facilitating an Online Grief Support Group

Facilitating an online grief support group may be more daunting than it seems or than you anticipated. Depending on how quickly and how large your group grows, it may not be easy keeping up with it. Be careful not to get too overwhelmed at the beginning or risk your group falling apart before it has a chance to grow and succeed. Here are some tips that might help you get things going. 

1. Get to know your platform

You’ll need to get familiar with your host platform so that you stay within its rules and guidelines. Take the time to read any available policy and privacy statements they make available.

Any misstep can cause your host to cancel or ban your group from meeting on its platform. Getting banned would be disastrous for you and your group, considering all of the time, money, and effort it takes to get started.  

2. Get the word out

To make your group a success, you’ll need to let people know that you exist. Getting the word out of when and where your group’s meeting is crucial to getting off to a good start.

You’ll need to plan ahead and do some marketing and advertising to ensure the right people get word that your group is all set to go. You can also do some organic word-of-mouth marketing by asking your social circle to spread the word by posting on social sites and telling people about your group. 

3. Stay consistent

One of the chief indicators that your online group will be a success is consistency. Keeping consistent in your efforts, marketing, being on time, and consistently meeting on the days and weeks you say you’re going to do so plays a considerable role in the group’s success.

The bottom line is that people will grow to depend on your group’s help and support. When you don’t show up as advertised, those same people will lose trust in what you do and seek the support they need elsewhere. 

4. Keep on track

Keeping on track means sticking to your schedule, time, and topics. There’s a certain lack of professionalism when things go off track in an already planned program.

Bereaved people need to feel that they can depend on something consistent in their otherwise chaotic lives. Do everything you can to stay on track and to follow your group’s purpose and plan.

5. Plan ahead

Always end every meeting with a plan for the next one. Let your group members know what to expect at your next gathering.

Knowing what’s coming ahead of time relieves some of the stress and anxiety of the unknown. Remember that you’re dealing with people whose lives have recently been turned upside down. Provide a stabilizing force in their lives. 

Tips for Facilitating an In-Person Grief Support Group

Facilitating in-person support groups follow much of the same structure as online groups but with the added emphasis on real-time efforts in real life. These added tips will help you have a successful support group meeting each time. 

Aim for smooth sailing

Efficiently running an in-person grief support group is key to its success. Decide ahead of time the format you’ll use and focus on running each meeting based on that. There’s a benefit to having and sticking to a structure, form, and schedule for each of your sessions.

Try not to deviate too much from your objectives and ask that everyone show up on time. Remember that one of the main things people will have is questions about grief and how to move past their pain and suffering. They aren’t there to talk about the weather or the latest gossip. Make sure to stick to your list of grief and loss activities

Have a defined mission

Consider drafting a mission statement that defines your group’s purpose. A good mission statement needs to be no more than two to three sentences long and shouldn’t make any promises of achievement or success.

Your mission statement should set the foundation for your group’s core values, purpose, and goals. It should also outline how the group envisions meeting those goals. 

Delegate responsibilities

Always have a backup person selected to help you with the group’s administrative and other workflow needs. You’ll need someone assigned to be the primary contact for the group, putting the curriculum together, making copies of the information, and other grief resources you’ll make available.

Sharing these responsibilities will take some of the pressure off of you and will help when appointing these tasks to others. Make sure to publicly credit those individuals who’ve contributed to your group’s success. 

Setting Up a Grief Support Group

Setting up and running a grief support group is an admirable way of bringing bereaved persons together to get them the help they need. Although not easy, getting an online or in-person support group started is a rewarding experience for both its founders and members.

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