Design for a once-off support meeting for newly bereaved

The goals of this 2-hour meeting are for you:

  • to bring to the surface and give voice to experience, feelings, and thoughts that you had not articulated well or perhaps even acknowledged, and
  • to help you envisage that you are living in a web of connections and concern that you can draw on as you move into the future.

(These goals would be announced in advance as well as noting that this is a once-off meeting, which means that there is no expectation that the group continues and provides the connections and concern.)

As you arrive you will be given a stiff folder on which you can write, a sticky label for your name, and the agenda (below).  The steps (once everyone is sitting in a circle with the name labels on their chest):

  1. Facilitator reads goals aloud and confidentiality principle: “Do not speak afterwards about what is said by attributing it to anyone, even if you don’t name the person or even if the speaker was the person you are talking with. Instead, simply talk about what you are thinking or inquiring about as a result of having been in today’s session” (3 min)
  2. Guided free writing (4 min) on what you hope to get out of this group.
  3. Write down one hope that you are prepared to share (1 min)
  4. Share that hope with a neighbor (5 min).
  5. Four-five minute autobiographical stories (50 min) – how I came to be a person who would be interested to join up to our grief support group.  Connections and extensions feedback – each participant for each speaker writes down one point of connection or similarity with the speaker, and one thought about how the story could be extended in a positive direction, either by the speaker or by the participant making the feedback.  Facilitator goes first.
  6.  Read the feedback  and circle some points that struck you. Share one of these with a different neighbor (8 min).
  7. “Dialogue process” (30 min) on how we might make new meanings in our future through connections we have in our lives outside this group, including connections with aspects of the person we have lost.
    (The “dialogue process” begins with a go around in which each person states one thought or feeling that is at the top for them right now. It may be one of the points of feedback, it may be an initial thought about making new meanings, or it may be feeling that you are having at this point in the group. After the check-in,  people take a card from the stack when they think they have something to say. It is not rude to do this when someone else is talking; it’s the opposite, because once you have a card you can go back to listening well to what is said and to your own internal responses to that. When your turn comes, pause and see  if you can remember what it was you wanted to express and whether it seems still relevant. It is okay to pass,  especially because you can easily get another turn.  In what you say, emphasize inquiry—seeking clarifications and understanding—over advocacy or making a statement.)
  8. Gather thoughts (3 min) Write down the thoughts you want to take away to keep chewing on and the practices you want to implement.
  9. Closing (5 min). Each person shares one thing from their gathered thoughts, perhaps something they need witnessed by others in order to make it more likely that it will happen.
  10. Critical incident questionnaire. (5 min) This short evaluation, written with carbon paper so that you can take the original home with you, allows the group facilitator to learn from your experience of the session. These would be compiled and distributed back to everyone by email.
  11. Submit confidential “I would be happy for you to provide my contact info to…” sheets to facilitator, who will share the contact info only if both people identify each other on these sheets (2 min).

Suggestions welcome from anyone who has run or attended grief support groups, especially if the group tries out some of the design above.

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About Peter J. Taylor
Peter Taylor is a Professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston where he teaches and directs undergraduate and graduate programs on critical thinking, reflective practice, and science-in-society. His research and writing focuses on the complexity of environmental and health sciences in their social context, incl. Unruly Complexity: Ecology, Interpretation, Engagement (U. Chicago Press, 2005) and Nature-nurture? No (2014, http://bit.ly/NNN2014). On reflective practice, see Taking Yourself Seriously: Processes of Research & Engagement (with J. Szteiter, 2012, http://bit.ly/TYS2012).

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