A New Group For People Facing Bereavement in Bristol
The Harbour Bereavement Therapy Group invites people affected by loss to come together to speak openly and honestly about the realities of their grief. We provide a safe, confidential space where individuals can share their experiences with others who have also lost someone close to them following life-threatening illness. This includes close friends, partners and family members. In these groups, you are given time to accept the loss of someone close in a mutually supportive environment.
We will be assessing clients for a new group this Autumn. The group will be made up of between 5 and 8 individuals who have been affected by bereavement relating to a life-threatening illness in the last two years. We expect to meet on Tuesdays at 5.15pm for a period of 16 weeks. Meetings will last for an hour and a quarter. In light of COVID-19, the group will begin meeting on Zoom. Subject to government guidelines, and what feels safe for the group as a whole, we may begin to meet face to face at The Harbour on Frogmore Street later on in the process.
If you are interested in joining The Harbour Bereavement Therapy Group, please call us on 0117 925 9348 or contact us via this form. We will begin by offering you two assessment appointments on Zoom or via the telephone. These assessment appointments will be held before September 2020 and will give clients the opportunity to meet with our therapist Peter on an individual basis. If you and Peter agree that The Harbour Bereavement Therapy Group is the right service for you, he will keep in contact with you and let you know the date of the first session.
The restrictions caused by COVID-19 have affected people’s ability to be close to their loved ones at the end of their lives, and this has meant there have not been the same opportunities to say goodbye. There have been fewer opportunities to share grief with others. We know that these processes, these rituals like funerals, are incredibly important to allowing people to grieve and to mourn. By starting this group, we hope to help individuals to combat isolation by sharing their experiences with others who are facing similar situations.
One of our therapists Matthew Wyatt spoke to Peter Dorling, who runs the therapy groups, to find out more about the way group therapy works at The Harbour
Hello Peter, would you just introduce, to begin with, the groups that you run at The Harbour?
At the moment I run a long-term group for people living with life-threatening illness which meets on a weekly basis for about an hour and ten minutes.
How are you running the groups at the moment, in light of the COVID-19 situation?
With the onset of COVID-19, because of the social distancing measures that were introduced, we moved from meeting in person in one of the rooms at The Harbour to meeting virtually on Zoom.
We were initially meeting for an hour and a half, which was our standard meeting time before the pandemic, but we eventually reduced that time to an hour and ten minutes. People found that communicating on Zoom was draining. That included me as well, I did find working on Zoom more challenging at times. However, it has been encouraging to learn that a shorter timeslot means group therapy can be effective online.
Yes, that is something that has been talked about quite a lot with people working remotely during the current situation.
How many people are in your group?
At the moment there are five people in the group – for various reasons – that is five people plus me as the therapist. It is thought that more than eight people, plus the therapist, would be too big, but that fewer than five would make it difficult for conversation to flow within the group. In a very small group, it could be quite exposing.
Do you have any plans for other groups in the future?
Previously we have run time-limited bereavement groups. Our shortest group met for twelve sessions. I ran a group last year which went on for about six months. Our current plan is to develop a group that meets for sixteen sessions.
Would you be able to describe what it’s like being in a group, what I might get out of being in a group, and how that might be different from seeing an individual therapist?
What is it like being in a group? Well, I suppose on one level, most people have experience of being in a group, being in a collection of people. In a therapy group, the culture is different. I think it becomes apparent that communication, in the sense of holding conversation in a group, is less straightforward than one’s ordinary experiences of being in a group might be. It can feel initially quite awkward, and maybe quite scary, at least in the initial sessions. As time goes on, that changes quite quickly. The group can feel like a space where it’s possible to communicate freely.
What might I get out of joining a group?
I think the first thing, that applies particularly to people who are going through the same experience whether than be bereavement or an illness, is that it alleviates that isolation.
And I imagine that’s quite important with the topics you’re talking about?
Yes, particularly in the case of a life-threatening illness. I think attitudes to death and mortality in society may be changing, but this is still a difficult subject. It is a taboo subject generally. The question is how a person, who has some diagnosis of that nature, can learn to talk to their friends and family without feeling they are overwhelming or overburdening them. Someone experiencing a bereavement might face similar challenges.
How is a therapeutic group different from having individual therapy?
In a group you have to share the therapist with everyone else; often, that feels like a drawback at the start. However, with time, it comes to feel liberating. Very often the therapist will aim to take a back seat; to be part of the group but not to intrude too much into the group. This means that a conversation can develop among the clients in such a way that is empowering. It’s their space, their time, and they are free to speak or be silent and bring what feels most important to them. In the individual situation I think the therapist is, in a way, more central… Though they are often going to be, perhaps, quite silent they are encouraging something specific. It is a two-way dialogue, as this conversation is, between you and I, and one to one conversations can sometimes be limited because there are only two perspectives. In a group that dynamic is different, because there are many different points of view, and more resources present.
In the group, each individual member has the opportunity to receive feedback, observations and reactions from a wider range of people than just their therapist. Therapists have to be careful not to dominate the conversation when working one-to-one with clients. They guide the direction of the session but must make sure the client feels free to express their true feelings about their experience. In a group, all clients are equal and are likely to share similar experiences. This means the discussion can feel more spontaneous, more real. They are not in role and are less defended, so people can share and compare their experiences with far greater freedom than when one-to-one with a therapist. I also work with individuals, and in that context, the client has the therapist’s exclusive attention to explore stuff in depth, however, the exchange is always one-sided, and “reality testing” not so readily available. For example, if you ask your therapist about their personal politics, they will usually decline to answer the question! They may explore why the question is important to you, why you’re asking the question now, and draw out a meaning from that. In a group, the other members will often have no inhibition in answering such a question, (albeit that the therapist will be non-committal) however, they (or a more experienced client) might eventually wonder why this topic of conversation has become so interesting to everyone….
This means that the group offers an experience of community that is not present in the one-to-one situation, and the upshot of this is to alleviate the experience of social isolation. The group-as-a-whole therefore creates its own culture and readily provides a shared space for discussion, and the opportunity of collective ‘ownership’ of the therapy. Being responsible for the therapeutic exchange it is not the sole concern of the therapist. Having the experience of receiving others’ honest observations, empathy and experience is, ultimately, often more empowering, and closer to real life than individual therapy.
Right, okay that’s really interesting, so it sounds like it’s more democratic so to speak?
It is more democratic in the sense that everyone in a group is on the same level. Certainly, when we meet in person, that is reflected by the fact that all the chairs are identical. There is no set place for people to sit, you can sit where you choose.
And what would be the process for joining a group?
You would set up an assessment appointment with me. I see people at least twice before the start of the group. This gives the client a chance to get to know me, and decide if I’m their cup of tea, and to allow me to decide whether the client can be helped by group counselling. Many people can be, but there are some people who are feeling, maybe, so overwhelmed, maybe even in a state of crisis over what’s going on with them, that a one-to-one approach would be more appropriate.
And following on from that – those two initial conversations – what would happen after that?
Well, a fully formed group in terms of numbers don’t all contact us on the same day. In general, it might take some time to assemble a group of at least five. So I would keep in contact with the clients in the meantime to build up this relationship, which we call the ‘therapeutic alliance.’
Right, so they’re still getting some contact with you even before they join the group?
That’s important, so they don’t feel forgotten about.
That must be very useful. Okay, thank you very much for your time Peter.
If you are interested in joining The Harbour Bereavement Therapy Group, please call us on 0117 925 9348 of contact us via this form. We will begin by offering you two assessment appointments on Zoom or via the telephone. These assessment appointments will be held in the coming weeks and will give clients the opportunity to meet with our therapist Peter on an individual basis. If you and Peter agree that The Harbour Bereavement Therapy Group is the right service for you, he will keep in contact with you and let you know the date of the first session.