Book Review: Bereavement Groups and the Role of Social Support
One of the most significant early life stressors for children and adolescents is losing a loved one, a close relative, or a friend. The loss of parents at an early age affects the child’s psychological aspect to a great extent. Bereavement is the experience of losing someone in which an affectionate bond was formed.
It is characterized by grief, the process and range of emotions that occur as a response to loss. This essay presents a book review with a strong trauma theme and its reflection and application in professional and personal life development. The selected book is Bereavement Groups and the Role of Social Support (Hoy, 2016).
The book selected for this review is Bereavement Groups and the Role of Social Support-Integrating Theory, Research, and Practice by Hoy (2016). The book contains an in-depth guide for bereavement groups based on the author’s experience as a leader in bereavement groups. It aims to help social groups and therapists that facilitate bereavement support groups identify their responsibilities and know who is best suited to facilitate the groups.
The book begins with the author sharing his experience leading bereavement support groups. He links the historical overview with various grief models that can be used by counselors, therapists, and leaders of bereavement support groups to facilitate support for the people they work with. The author also emphasizes the importance of learning from research practice and theory as he studies effective support of bereavement support groups through a LEAP (Leaders Experiences, attitudes and Perspectives) study.
Social groups and the support of bereaved individuals are also explored. The author uses case studies and other related research to point out that not all people who have lost their loved ones require the support of bereavement support groups. Some people grieve and heal on their own. However, people whose emotional responses to grief persist and affect their mental health, psychological well-being, and overall quality of life need bereavement support (Hoy, 2016).
The guidelines for recruiting and training bereavement support group leadership are explored in detail. The author identifies and discusses the critical factors when recruiting and training leaders for the bereavement support groups. The considerations include background checks and involvement in volunteer group leadership. He emphasizes that individuals who have long volunteered in bereavement support groups make the best leaders when they receive the appropriate training.
Professionals should lead bereavement support groups. The professional usually has the technical knowledge, but the bereaved survivor is more equipped to support and help other individuals who have gone through the same out of experience. Continuous training and educational development are imperative for bereavement support group leaders and facilitators to enhance the success of the groups.
Furthermore, the book explores the group activities that the leaders may facilitate in enhancing the success of a closed bereavement support group. Among the most practical activities include journaling, creative arts, and borrowed narratives. The author also identifies and discusses the advantages and disadvantages of online bereavement support groups.
The challenges of leading online bereavement support groups which include privacy and confidentiality issues, group members remaining silent, monopolizing the group activities, and making the group difficult for other members. The author gave specific examples of group settings where the group members made the setting uncomfortable and unsafe for each other through issues such as disrespect and rudeness. The leaders should be keen to set group rules at the beginning of the group meetings and ensure that all members adhere to the rules.
Most importantly, toward the end of the book, the author discusses supporting children and teens through grief groups. Being an essential aspect of this review, more attention is paid to the effectiveness of bereavement support groups and grief camps in helping children and adolescents overcome grief.
The activities that contribute to the success of the groups, such as creative arts and journaling, are also explored. The book ends by providing a guideline for assessing the appropriateness of group participants. As mentioned earlier, not all bereaved people need to be in bereavement support groups, especially children and adolescents who heal and adapt on their own easily. However, there is an assessment tool used before members join a group. It is worth noting that the member should also be willing to join a bereavement support group.
Reading through the book, my childhood memories regarding the issue of grief and bereavement support groups began to roll through my mind. I had a personal connection with the book’s contents, which made me understand in-depth experiences I went through during childhood that I could not understand then.
I lost my father when I was six years old. We had formed a powerful affectionate bond with my father, and the news of his abrupt demise took a toll on me. As my younger sibling and I were left under the care of my mother, many changes were happening in our lives despite the grief we were facing. My mother started showing adverse emotional reactions during my father’s burial.
The reactions were so gruesome that she would vent her anger and disbelief on my younger sibling and me since we were closest to her. According to Milman et al. (2019), prolonged grief leads to a psychological condition called Prolonged Grief Disorder. Seeking counseling services would prevent the occurrence of the disorder, which would have other adverse effects on my mother’s life. The emotional responses to grief persisted for over two months when the extended family members advised her to o for bereavement counseling.
Following an assessment, her therapist placed her in a bereavement support group with other individuals who had suffered the same fate, bereavement survivors, and group facilitators. The bereavement support group had weekly meetings where they would meet, share their experiences in the presence of other people’s emotions, express themselves, and help each other heal.
She attended the group for almost a year before feeling that she was doing much better in life and could control her emotional response to grief. She had also made new friends and was able to use the experiences shared by the group to cope with grief. Additionally, it helped reduce her loneliness, and she was able to live a normal life again.
On the other hand, my family members noticed that I was experiencing adverse emotional responses to grief. I would appear dull and sad and did not want to be around people. I remember locking myself up in my room and only leaving the room when going to school. After seeking help, my mother’s counselor advised her to take me to a grief camp to join other children and teens who have suffered bereavement.
A study by Salinas (2021) shows that bereavement camping is an adjunct to grief treatment in which children normalize and process grief through play and other activities. A child in grief usually loses self-esteem, teamwork strategies, and confidence. The camps offer the children a safe environment to process and get over grief in a safe and supported environment.
As a child, I first thought that the reason for being taken to the camp was to be away from my mother so that she could heal without affecting our normal life. However, it turned out to be my childhood’s most successful and life-changing event.
There were caring and compassionate facilitators who led us to express ourselves and our emotions in any way possible. They also facilitated play with objectives and teaming up with other children. I remember not playing for almost two months before going to the camp.
However, I was completely different when leaving the camp, and my healing had begun. By then, I could not understand the purpose of all the activities in the camp; I only appreciated the fact that I became a better person. When reading this book, I understood and appreciated each activity’s relevance and contribution to the grief-healing process.
The reading and interaction of the book’s contents have been an essential learning and informative source in understanding the concept of grief bereavement and bereavement support groups for children and adolescents. Given that the traumatic loss of a close relative or friend during childhood is one of the early life stressors and a major cause of trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder in children and adolescents, the book was vital in understanding the related concepts.
I had different expectations when beginning to read the book, and some of the questions I had in mind were adequately answered. More so, the book challenged my thinking regarding childhood and adolescent trauma in relation to loss and grief.
One of the concepts of the book that warrant more information is the relationship between trauma and loss, and grief in children and adolescents. The author adequately explored the concept of the importance of bereavement support groups and camping grief for children in addressing grief. The activities that can be used in these camps to help children and teens overcome grief was also discussed.
However, the concept of the relationship between grief and trauma/childhood Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder was not brought out clearly. Research shows that prolonged grief in children potentially causes major depressive disorder and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
However, grief-related distress may not necessarily cause PTSD in children and adolescents. However, elevated grief reactions can be associated with major depressive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (Geronazzo-Alman et al., 2019).
Furthermore, I believe that concluding grief-related best practices based on case studies should include a more representative sample. I believe that the case study used to conclude the importance of. Bereavement support groups for children should have had a bigger sample despite the fact that working with children samples is hard and ethically unjustified.
Another important aspect that I believe requires more information is the inclusivity and effectiveness of bereavement support groups for children and adolescents who already have other special needs and those who may not be able to attend bereavement support groups or grief camps.
It is evident that grief camps are costly, and such facilities are not found in all parts of the nation. Thus, children and adolescents from poor backgrounds and rural areas may be marginalized when accessing grief and related services. However, it is worth noting that grief can affect anyone, thus a need to address the disparities in access to grief services.
Additionally, the bereavement support groups and grief camps did not consider individuals with other special needs, such as physical impairment, that would limit them from attending the meetings, or playing for children, thus not even benefitting from them. The author should include such considerations.
As I read the book, the aspect that stood out is that even bereavement support groups with children and adolescents also require prior assessment. The aspect challenges my thinking on the use of bereavement support groups in helping children and teens with grief and related grief. I used to believe that every child experiencing grief-related distress is a perfect candidate for bereavement support groups.
However, this book has explored and justified otherwise, just as adults’ children are also selective in terms of the methods of healing grief that work for them. Additionally, children with special needs, such as physical impairments and other preexisting psychological conditions, may not benefit similarly.
As mentioned earlier, children and teens without special needs would benefit from bereavement support groups and grief camps. Prior assessment can also help identify preexisting mental conditions and thus refer the child to get the appropriate treatment or therapy interventions.
The understanding of this book will enhance my professional and personal practice. It will help in dealing with children and adolescents impacted by trauma, especially grief-related trauma and prolonged grief leading to post-traumatic stress disorder.
The first lesson that I learned will inform my practice is the importance of prior assessments when advising a client to join a bereavement support group. As mentioned earlier, not all clients can fit into these support groups, and not all can benefit effectively. Therefore, I will ensure that I use the prior assessment tool to determine if the client is fit to join support groups.
This book also emphasized the importance of continuous learning and education for facilitators and leaders of bereavement support groups. As counselors, we are the best-suited professionals to understand the group members and lead/facilitate bereavement support groups to effectively assist members in the journey of healing from grief.
As emphasized in the book, continuous educational development through training and engaging in research is imperative to maintain professional and personal development, which is important for leading and facilitating bereavement groups. Thus I will intentionally improve my educational and professional skills, thus enhancing my integrative use of theory, practice and experience.
The author also notes that leading and facilitating bereavement support groups should be done with the help of a bereavement survivor. He suggests that when the leader is a professional, the co-leader should be a bereavement survivor and vice versa. The professional will give direction based on the theory and professional skills.
At the same time, the bereavement survivor will share their experiences with the group members, giving them hope and helping them to cope with their grief just as they did. Similarly, I will always ensure that as I lead or facilitate a bereavement support group, I am assisted by a bereavement survivor or assist them as they lead.
Additionally, developing a holistic bereavement support group is essential. Apart from ensuring the support groups are led by professionals equipped to help the group members heal from grief, I will always ensure that the group’s co-leader is a bereavement survivor who can help the people in healing through sharing past experiences.
Research shows that sharing similar bereavement experiences and how the survivor was able to cope with grief is effective in helping other group members relate and thus also be able to cope with their grief (Kentor & Kaplow, 2020). However, it is worth noting that some people find it hard to express their emotions in the presence of other people with similar cases because sharing with others reminds them of their loss, making them worse rather than helping them heal.
As learned from this book, one of the personal implications of personal life is the aspect of being compassionate, understanding, and accommodating when dealing with people who have suffered a loss. As a counselor, this is an important consideration in practice.
However, the book has given me a personal calling to consider treating people who have suffered a loss with compassion. The effect of bereavement and related distress is heavily felt, especially in children and adolescents. Thus, it is only fair to treat them compassionately.
Furthermore, when supporting children and teens through grief groups, I will strive to ensure that the children understand that involvement in grief groups is not a punishment but to improve their psychological health and well-being.
As seen in the book, facilitators of children and teens’ grief groups should be compassionate and caring and ensure that the children feel safe and secure when sharing their experiences and expressing themselves. These aspects remind me of the importance of trauma-informed practice.
Losing a loved one greatly affects a child psychologically, behaviorally, and cognitively. It is one of the early life stressors that potentially cause post-traumatic stress disorder and major depressive disorder in children and adolescents. Children experiencing prolonged grief should be referred to grief counseling, bereavement support groups, or grief camps. Most essentially, children and adolescents should be accorded support in grief healing since it greatly affects them, as discussed above.
- Geronazzo-Alman, L., Fan, B., Duarte, C. S., Layne, C. M., Wicks, J., Guffanti, G. & Hoven, C. W. (2019). The distinctiveness of grief, depression, and post-traumatic stress: lessons from children after 9/11. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 58(10), 971-982. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaac.2018.12.012
- Hoy, W. G. (2016). Bereavement Groups and the Role of Social Support. New York, NY: Routledge. ISBN: 978-1-138-91689-0. OMEGA – Journal of Death and Dying, 77(1), 91–
- Kentor, R. A., & Kaplow, J. B. (2020). Supporting children and adolescents following parental bereavement: guidance for health-care professionals. The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health, 4(12), 889-898. https://doi.org/10.1016/S2352-4642(20)30184-X
- Milman, E., Neimeyer, R. A., Fitzpatrick, M., MacKinnon, C. J., Muis, K. R., & Cohen, S. R. (2019). Prolonged grief and the disruption of meaning: Establishing a mediation model. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 66(6), 714. https://doi.org/10.1037/cou0000370
- Salinas, C. L. (2021). Playing to heal: The impact of bereavement camp for children with grief. International Journal of Play Therapy, 30(1). https://doi.org/10.1037/pla0000147