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How to Incorporate Grief Imagery in a Support Group Format

06 Dec

Hello Belleruth,
As a member myself, I wound up hosting a grief support group, but my training is as a physician, not a counselor or group worker.  I listened to your grief CD and had a sort of a 'tear-filled let-down' response’ about 10 minutes into it...not sure why. I would like to play it for the group during a day-long retreat we’ll be having.  Only question is, do you usually do only the 1st part with a new group, or continue on into the affirmations part? I figured we'd just play the traditional imagery and let people try the other on their own with copies you provided.  Would appreciate any ideas on how to best use this.

Dear Tom,

Yes, it's designed to evoke some tears, but the good kind.  Repeated listening has a beneficial effect.  But those who are still not yet ready to feel their feelings, might be uncomfortable at first.  Here’s a sequence that I generally like to use with grief workshops and bereavement support groups - and the format works pretty well for other kinds of imagery as well:

  • First explain a little bit about how this can be really helpful over time (weeks, not months) and not to worry about getting weepy if that's the reaction.  It’s good to lower the lights if possible, so the room is dimmer. 

  • Play the imagery.  Have a couple of boxes of Kleenex strategically located.

  • Leave time for the music to play to the end.  Don't raise the lights right away.

  • Then ask people to pair up with somebody else to discuss their reactions to the imagery, just in pairs, everyone at once (this makes it much easier for them to talk in the group as a whole later, if they start out in a pair) - if there's one odd man out, you could pair up with him or make one threesome - and have them discuss just what they felt and perceived during the imagery... if they feel any differently afterwards, in any way - even if there are any differences in physical sensations - body temperature, relaxation, runny nose, heavier limbs, emotions, etc. - this is not an invitation to talk about what happened with their loved one - it's better to keep it to their reactions during the imagery. Needless to say, anyone who doesn't want to, shouldn't have to! 

  • Then reconvene the group-as-a-whole and ask for general responses, any questions or puzzlements.   Usually the sharing is very good by now, because people have loosened up emotionally from the imagery and have already shared in a cozy pair. This tends to be very good for the group and its degree of cohesion.

  • Now elicit from the group what they've been doing that's been helpful to them - just different coping strategies.... anything from how to respond to intrusive or insensitive people saying dumb things, to what they turn their attention to during the day to get out of a funk or get away from thinking obsessively...

  • Then you could play the affirmations as a follow up - that's a nice way to close - or they may just want to just socialize on a lighter level and go to eating and joking, which is just as great.

I hope this is helpful.  Please let me know if you have any other questions or concerns!

[Ed. Note:  Tom later reported the day was a success.]

Belleruth Naparstek

Psychotherapist, author and guided imagery pioneer Belleruth Naparstek is the creator of the popular Health Journeys guided imagery audio series. Her latest book on imagery and posttraumatic stress, Invisible Heroes: Survivors of Trauma and How They Heal (Bantam Dell), won the Spirituality & Health Top 50 Books Award