Grief is an unfortunate experience that we all encounter at some point in our lifetime. Grief is a normal response when we experience a loss, a significant change in our life, or other traumatic events (CDC, 2022).
Significant losses that can cause grief include the expected, and unexpected, death of a loved one, friend, acquaintance, or pet. Significant changes in our life that can cause us to grieve include divorce, loss of financial independence, loss of your home or other property, and the loss of significant relationships. A traumatic event, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, can contribute to the development of grief.
Keep reading to learn 15 group therapy activities you can use for your clients suffering from grief, loss, and bereavement.
How Does Group Therapy Help Individuals with Grief?
It is important to note that every experience with grief looks different. Individuals who have experienced many losses in their life can likely attest that each loss hits them differently. Even the expected losses can take a toll on us that we weren’t expecting or prepared for.
When we talk about grief, a common assumption is that we are referring to the death of a loved one, friend, or another person in our life. The grief we can experience from sudden changes in our life can be just as challenging and impactful, so it is important to be mindful of this when working with clients.
Grief can contribute to a variety of changes that can impact a client’s mental health. This includes a loss of appetite, sleep disturbances, anxiety, distress, anger, and periods of sadness (CDC, 2022). Children and adolescents can experience grief similarly to adults.
Group therapy can be an effective form of treatment for individuals who are struggling with grief. Group therapy can provide a safe place for individuals to talk about their struggles, learn new ways to cope with their distress, provide support to others, feel supported, and be provided with grief knowledge. Group therapy is often a more affordable treatment option when compared to individual therapy which can be an important factor for many when looking into mental health treatment options.
List of Group Therapy Activities for Grief
Group therapy provides counselors with an opportunity to provide clients with invaluable knowledge about grief, healthy coping skills, and the importance of support. Utilizing group therapy activities for individuals with grief can create an interactive session focused on grief and loss. Additionally, group therapy activities for children and teens can be modified to address their unique experiences with grief and loss.
Below is a list of group therapy activities for grief, loss, and bereavement:
- Spend time providing psychoeducation about the use of meditation practices, and their use as emotion regulation skills. Explore different forms of meditation practices such as guided imagery, progressive muscle relaxation, loving-kindness meditations, and mantra meditation. Allow for time to practice several forms of meditation and to process the group members’ experiences. Follow up during the next group session to explore any uses of meditation since their previous session.
- Spend time talking about the stages of grief, and explaining that they don’t always occur in a linear, or expected order. Allow the group to share their experience with the different stages and identify where they feel they are at that moment. Spend time talking about healthy ways to cope within the stages that group members feel they are in.
- Spend time providing education about the differences between primary loss and secondary loss. Ask the group to verbalize their primary loss, and explore secondary losses that they have encountered since then. As an example, if a group member was caring for a parent or loved one, they may now have ample time that they are unsure what to do with. Their secondary loss could be the structure of their day and a sense of feeling needed. Ask group members what is scary or uncomfortable about the changes they have experienced since their primary loss.
- Spend time talking about the role that self-care has on our mental health. Provide the group with a worksheet that lists different self-care behaviors. Ask group members to identify 2-3 behaviors that they can add to their routine before the next group session. Allow time in the next session to follow up on their experience and any impact that it had on their mental health.
- Spend time talking about the different emotions that a person can experience when they are grieving. Provide the group with a handout that shows a knotted ball, such as a yarn ball. Ask them to write down the emotions that they have been experiencing. Allow for time to explore which emotions are the most challenging so that you can normalize their experience, and discuss healthy ways to cope.
- Spend time exploring the importance of social support in the grieving process. Ask the group to share their experience with isolation or withdrawing from their regular activities while grieving. Explore ways that they can incorporate social support into their routine. This could be calling a close friend, going out for a coffee, joining a support group, or returning to previous hobbies.
- Bring in a large sheet of paper that the group can use to create a collage of how they feel about their grief journey. Being vague in the directions can allow the group the opportunity to tap into their own experience. This could include difficult emotions as well as hopeful emotions. Allow for time to explore the collage and normalize common experiences.
- Provide the group with the material needed to write a letter to their grief. Allow the group ample time to write their letter. Group members can share their letters with the group, and explore how confronting their grief made them feel.
- Create a memory box or jar. Provide the group with materials needed for the activity. Encourage the group to fill their box or jar with things associated with memories of their loved one. This could include quotes, pictures, words, objects, interests, places, etc. At the end of the group, ask members to share what they feel the most important or special piece of their project was.
- Work with group members to create a coping skills cheat sheet. This can be a small piece of paper that fits into the client’s wallet, purse, or pocket. The coping cheat sheet should include a list of different coping skills that they know help when they are feeling distressed. This can include calling a friend, going for a walk, listening to a specific song, deep breathing, meditation, etc. Allow for time to review each client’s list to possibly offer ideas to other members.
- Spend time talking about emotion regulation skills that can help clients cope with their emotions. Clients who find themselves ruminating are more likely to experience complicated grief. Learning to cope when they begin getting stuck in their thoughts can decrease their risk of further mental health struggles.
- Spend a session talking about the tasks of mourning that were identified by J. William Worden. This includes accepting the reality of the loss, processing the pain of grief, adjusting to the world without the deceased, and finding a way to remember the deceased while moving forward in life. After exploring the different tasks, ask the group where they feel they are, and how they feel about moving forward in their grieving process.
- Provide the group with a list of grief journal prompts at the beginning of the session. Provide the group with time to create a journal entry. Process their experience with the journaling activity and talk about the use of journaling as a coping skill. Encourage the group to create a journal entry on their own time to see if it is something they could see themselves using as a coping skill.
- Provide the group with an outline of the human body and ask them to identify where in their body they feel their grief. This can include their back, neck, and jaw. Do they find themselves feeling weak when they experience certain emotions? Do they have headaches often? Are there changes in their appetite? Have they noticed their thinking process slowing down? Explore their awareness of their physical symptoms of grief in real-time, as well as how they cope with them.
- Talk about the role that self-talk has on our emotions. Ask the group how they feel that they have handled their grief and the changes that they have experienced since their loss. Review changes that they can make in their self-talk when they are aware of negative thoughts. Explore ways that group members can show themselves kindness and compassion while they grieve.
Final Thoughts on Selecting Group Therapy Activities for Your Clients with Grief, Loss, and Bereavement
Grief is a challenging life experience that can make clients feel an array of feelings including loss, sadness, being overwhelmed, and numbness. As counselors, our job is to provide clients with needed support, and a safe environment where they can come and be their authentic selves, no matter what that may be that day. Normalizing the ups and downs of grief and loss can help clients see that their current experience is a natural reaction to what they are living through.
Tailoring group activities to your group members can help make your group sessions effective and impactful for your group members. If you prefer to use handouts to guide group sessions, resources such as TherapyByPro’s Grief Worksheets can provide you with affordable handouts for grief, loss, and bereavement.
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Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022). Grief and loss. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/mentalhealth/stress-coping/grief-loss/index.html