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close this bookPreventing Suicide: How to Start a Survivors Group (WHO, 2000, 50 p.)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentForeword
View the documentThe importance of self-help support groups
View the documentSurviving a suicide
View the documentImpact of suicide
View the documentSources of help for the bereaved
View the documentHow to initiate a self-help support group for survivors of suicide
View the documentDeveloping the operational framework for the group
View the documentIdentifying and gaining access to resources to support the group
View the documentGauging success
View the documentPotential risk factors for the group
View the documentSurvivor support in developing countries and rural areas
View the documentSurvivor support through “involvement therapy” in other activities
View the documentBack cover

Gauging success

Many factors come into play in assessing the outcome of a group. Some of the elements in successful functioning are outlined below.

· It's not just about numbers. Success in many things in life is measured in numbers. Usually the bigger the number, the bigger the success. In support groups, success is not a matter of the number of people who attend the group, but how much the people have been helped in their journey to becoming “new persons” after the suicide of a loved one. Of course numbers are significant, but what do they really mean? Do they indicate that the number of suicides in the area has increased, or that the group's publicity is working? Are they an indication that the group process being used is really helpful to the people attending and that they may have passed this information on to others? Or do they mean that survivors who have stifled their feelings for years are now finally recognizing that help is available and are taking advantage of this resource. Facilitators may find it useful to ask new members how they heard about the group and why they are attending. The answers will help the group to serve the needs of the community as well as possible.

· Tell your story. One of the primary goals of a support group should be to get each person to tell his or her own story about the suicide loss and the life of the person experienced. Telling the story can be very therapeutic. The more people tell their story, the more likely they are to deal with the many issues that are involved. Of course, no members can be forced to tell their story. The facilitator should encourage each member to tell his or her story and be sure that an adequate opportunity is provided to do so. This suggests that some degree of control over a person who monopolizes the group's time should be exercised by the facilitator.

· Looking back. From time to time, it will be helpful to ask members to look back to where they were in their journey when they first came to the group and where they stand now. This will help individuals to realize that they have made progress, although it may be difficult to believe at times. It will also help the facilitator to gain a better sense of the degree to which the group and its process have been successful in helping survivors become “new” and more effective members of society. Such an exercise can be useful in encouraging people to look ahead and think about the future, perhaps for the first time. It is easy to become stuck in grief and think there is no future. Looking back tends to dispel this feeling and prove again that life goes on, even though it may be very difficult at times.

· Reaching out. One of the surest signs of success for a support group is the stage when people start reaching out to help others, particularly new members. The realization that your journey as a survivor has now progressed to the point where you have something useful to share with a newly bereaved survivor can be an empowering moment. The sense of having been in the same situation and lived through the same experience can renew a survivor's energy and enthusiasm to keep on and not to give up. Reaching that point is a true measure of success for most survivors.

· Do not get stuck on the unanswerable questions. All survivors have unanswerable questions, and they always will. Trying to deal with all such questions during meetings can be disruptive if allowed to go on and on. Acknowledging such questions as honest and realistic is quite appropriate. Trying to give answers is not. The experience of other survivors suggests that listening to the questions and then setting them aside and moving on can often be helpful.

· I don't have to know. All survivors face the difficult and unanswerable question “Why did my loved one commit suicide?” The question is unrelenting and demanding for newly bereaved survivors. This is quite normal. At some point in the grief process, most survivors are able to accept the fact that they will never know the answer. Once they accept this fact, they can set the question aside and move ahead. Therefore, one of the surest signs of a successful group process is when members are able to come to this realization, verbalize it, and show that they are moving on with their lives by the new actions they take. When it happens, all members of the group should find some satisfaction that they have had a part, however small, in making this success possible.

· No timetable. Much has been written about the stages of grief and their “normal” sequence. Sometimes survivors feel that they too should be following some type of “normal” grief progression. Experience suggests that survivors each develop their own pattern and timetable for grieving and healing. Expecting a survivor to meet some one else's timetable can lead to unnecessary problems. A veteran of working with survivors has suggested that “trust your own gut feeling” is good advice when trying to find your personal timetable.

· Give hope, when you can. People who have been in the group for some time can be a great help, especially to new members, by telling others how long it has been since their loss to suicide. This will give hope that it is possible to survive, even one hour or one day at a time, until those days add up to weeks and months. Looking back to see how far you have come is a good way to reinforce the fact that people can survive and make it through the seemingly endless despair survivors often experience. Similarly, describing successes in your healing process can be very helpful. For example, telling how you dealt with birthdays, holidays and anniversaries can be a great help to those facing these significant events for the first time. And you will learn that helping others by sharing your successes can be a great help in your own recovery process.

· Tears and hugs. Survivors tend to cry often. For many people, this is an acceptable thing to do in private but not in public. They need to know that it is all right to cry in support groups. In fact, it is expected. Shedding tears can be healing and helpful. It shows that the person is really working to resolve difficult issues. It gives other members a chance to reach out to be comforting and helpful to someone else, perhaps for the first time since their loss. Facilitators should anticipate that tears will come by having a supply of tissues available. This will give an advance signal that tears are welcome. Hugs are a possible way of showing unconditional acceptance. They are a sign of acceptance, caring and support - things that all survivors need. As members assemble for a group meeting, it is common for hugs to be shared as a sign of welcoming and caring. Hugs certainly convey a message of openness, a quality survivors will find essential as they move through the grief process. Facilitators will probably find it helpful to set an example that hugs are acceptable by greeting arriving members with a hug, even those they are meeting for the first time.

· The greatest people. After people have been group members for a while, it may suddenly occur to them that the other members of the group are some of the finest people they have met. The suicide of a loved one changes a person forever. Often old friends fade away and those strangers you met in a support group meeting become the new friends in your life. And that is quite in order, because these people fully understand what you have gone through and appreciate the difficulty of the journey ahead.

· Am I finished? How does a person know when to stop going to the support group? Trusting your “gut instinct” to know is probably the best advice. This too is a very personal matter. If going to the support group has become routine, it is probably time to think about moving on. If you find that the group meetings no longer provide new insights into your feeling and emotions, or if you find that you have no interest in continuing to attend the meetings so that you can help new members by sharing your experiences, then it is time to move on. You are probably not completely healed, but you are at the point where you can go ahead on your own. Of course, you can always go back to seek further support and energy to keep you going.

· Moving on. Perhaps the most certain measure of success is when survivors are able to integrate the support of the group and “move on”, coming back only to visit the group. Generally speaking, when survivors do not continue in a group, it means that they feel sufficiently confident about their ability to deal with life with other supports and personal sustenance and no longer need regular attendance at a group to receive support. In fact this is not always the case, as some people choose to leave for other reasons - an unpleasant experience in the group, pressures at home or work, poor health, and so on. The group facilitator will find it useful to speak to members who “move on” and confirm the reasons for this change. If the conversation confirms that the person is truly “moving on” because of self-confidence, the news can be shared with the group as positive evidence that the process does work.