10th May 2016

Thoughts on group support following suicide

As a Family Support Team, we receive referrals to support those whose loved one has died by suicide. I was pleased to have the opportunity to set up and help facilitate a Relatives and Friends Through Trauma Group, especially as we had discovered that there was a need for a specific support group here in Worcestershire.

The prospect filled me with feelings of excitement at the challenge but also trepidation of the potential unknown. How do you facilitate a group where the experiences are so traumatic and the feelings so intense?

We hoped that the group would develop a sense of community and support, where members felt supported, listened to and not judged. We know that an empathic and trusting environment is important in order for people to share experiences and discuss fears and concerns. I felt that if the group environment was right it would enable the expression of grief to be shared, confidentiality observed and compassion and support offered. My fear was that the group would not bond, and group members would find the experience too difficult and not return. Fortunately this was not the case.

It became evident from the first session that some of the group were very nervous, apprehensive and had a sense of fear about sharing their emotions. This was in some respect predictable due to the nature of their experiences and, as the group facilitator, I could really feel the tension within the room. But by remaining consistent and sticking to our agreed boundaries the group began to develop trust, bond, share their stories and develop a strong and empathic connection with each other. It was a very powerful process to witness.

As a Family Support Practitioner I understood how important it is for people to feel that those around them are being genuine, non- judgemental and empathic, and that this will help create a warm and supportive environment. I felt the make-up of the group helped to develop this trust and this was a key element in enabling the group to bond.

The group provided space for each individual to explore their thoughts and feelings without feeling any pressure to talk. From my perspective this enabled everyone to have freedom to only share when they felt ready and willing. As the sessions progressed, the group decided that they would take it in turns to have the opportunity to talk. This helped provide structure and an opportunity for everyone to speak and share their feelings.

Being part of the RAFTT group was truly a privilege. I witnessed such compassion, strength, honesty, pain, despair and sadness. As a practitioner witnessing the care and compassion they showed each other was truly incredible. At times, the content and feelings within the group challenged me as a practitioner. At times, I felt extremely sad and could feel the pain and sadness within the room.

As practitioners working with such emotional situations, it’s very important to our own wellbeing that we are supported by our own team manager. Following the group meetings, the support I received enabled me to process my own thoughts and feelings and gain perspective on the group session. It also enabled me to step back and objectively review what had happened.

The feedback we received from the group members that they really benefited from mutual support and felt able to share within the group sessions.

“The discussions made me really think about things for the first time

and the group helped me deal with situations in a better way.”

I think it is fair to make the assumption that a suicide bereavement group will always prove challenging, but ultimately extremely beneficial for those attending the sessions. In the future, we are looking to run regular groups which we hope will act as a catalyst and stepping stone for group members to set up an independent community support group. I look forward to being part of making that happen.

Matt Jackson, Family Support Practitioner