supianogriefsupportheader
Shayma Salih, University of Utah Health
resilience
Grief Support Groups for Your Patients: A Place of Hope and Comfort
While many people run away from loss and grief, Katherine Supiano, director of caring connections, embraces it and those going through it. With the help of her community, she facilitates healing through compassionate support systems, evidence-based training, and emotional validation.
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rief is isolating, especially when you’ve lost someone you relied on for support. Imagine you’ve suffered a particularly salient loss, like the death of your beloved father. Even though it can be a time for your family to come together for comfort, you are less capable of offering that unconditional love and support to each other because of your own needs. 

That’s the power of grief support groups. When people join a support group, they learn that they are not alone or crazy. Hearing other people say, “I can’t sleep,” or, “I’m filled with rage and can’t stop crying,” can help validate experiences of distress that come from grief.  

Caring connections 

Caring Connections is a bereavement care program, based out of the College of Nursing. Our primary mission is to offer compassionate care for grieving people, most of which is done through year-round grief support groups. We tailor these groups toward specific kinds of loss, like loss of a spouse or child, loss due to suicide, or loss due to an overdose death. Right now, our groups meet virtually. We have twice as many groups than we had before the pandemic. 

We also train students that rotate through our grief support program. We’ve incorporated grief care and education into the rotations available for psychiatric nurse practitioner students and social work students. 

We're training clinicians around the state, and even some around the country, on how to help their patients cope with grief. As post-Covid rates of suicide and overdose deaths rise, clinicians need to be prepared to handle bereavement related to these tragedies.  


"People grieve in their bodies, they grieve cognitively, they grieve emotionally, they grieve spiritually, and they grieve relationally. I hope we can help people do it in ways that are more comforting and more hopeful. "

Grieving Together 

Going to a support group can be particularly beneficial in cases where a death is highly stigmatized. Discussing disenfranchised grief, or grief that’s not socially endorsed, with friends or family who’ve never experienced that kind of loss may seem impossible. Support groups offer a safe space where people can talk openly about controversial losses, like suicide and overdose deaths, and still feel understood. 

Support groups also help grieving people develop healthy ways to navigate grief. The human mind has an incredible capacity to process grief. Being surrounded by supportive people can help grieving people avoid destructive coping mechanisms like drinking or avoidance.  

Grief is multi-dimensional 

There’s no one way to grieve, and there are no stages of grief—coping with loss is messier than that. Grievers must figure out how they’re going to live, and who they’re going to be, without their loved ones. While groups work for some, others may find educational materials more helpful. 

As a clinician, don’t be too quick to prescribe antidepressants or sleep medication. Let your patients know that support groups, like Caring Connections, are an option. For example, you could say “Hey, we have this service, and here’s the number.” Or, you could offer to have your case manager call them.  

People grieve in their bodies, they grieve cognitively, they grieve emotionally, they grieve spiritually, and they grieve relationally. I hope we can help people do it in ways that are more comforting and more hopeful. 

Contributor

Katherine Supiano

Associate Professor, Director of Caring Connections, University of Utah Health

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