There will come a time in the life of nearly every homicide (and suicide) survivor when they feel absolutely depleted. They’ve run the marathon. They’ve jumped through the hoops. Insomnia has hog-tied them. They feel adrift and realize (wisely) that they need support. Where should they turn?
This moment will come soon for some of us but most survivors delay getting help. (I did.)
Options exist – sort of. We can go find a professional therapist, lean on a friend, join a virtual support group, or an in-person support group, talk to the clergy, or seek another kind of advisor.
What’s the best choice?
Well, this is a complex question – not a one-size-fits-all situation. But I do want to focus on the advantages of attending a “good-fit support group” and how to find one.
Three advantages of a support group over other forms of help:
First, you’ll meet others who are in your shoes. Some group members may be only a month out from the death; others may be two decades removed. Some attendees will have lost a spouse or a child. Others, a mother or both siblings. There will be some people there with unsolved homicide cases, others about to go to trial, and a few who are dealing with the parole of the murderer. This provides reassurance that you’re not alone and that you’ll cross paths with a few “veterans” along the way.
Second, unlike individual therapy, attendees get input from several people. Some suggestions and reflections will be more helpful than others. Complete agreement with everyone is unlikely and unnecessary. After all, we’re not a completely homogeneous group. So, pick and choose what you find meaningful and practical for you.
Third, group members are privy to information known only to other homicide survivors. This isn’t planned. It just “is.” For example, attendees may learn what kinds of grief rituals have brought comfort to others or which podcasts or print journalists are most respectful and informed about the experience of surviving emotionally after a homicide.
Virtual or in-person group?
Virtual groups have the advantage of convenience and should be considered if in-person groups are unavailable or impossible to attend. But there are disadvantages as well.
For one, virtual groups depend upon computer skills and a strong, reliable internet connection. Did you know Microsoft estimates that 163 million Americans have no access to broadband service? And if you narrow the discussion down to just rural areas, one out of three households have no reception at all. Zilch. (Furthermore, the U.S. lags behind download speeds compared to Luxembourg, Japan, and Iceland despite paying more.)
Second, virtual groups cannot guarantee privacy. It’s easy for anyone in the vicinity of the computer to be listening to the conversation, just out of view of the computer’s camera. The speaker in the same household may not even be aware of the eavesdropper. In other words, each participant in the meeting is trusting that every other participant is safeguarding the group discussion.
And last, virtual groups just feel less palpable, less tangible. Imagine the difference between a virtual cruise and one where you’re really on the deck with the salt air in your face!
But, don’t rule out virtual groups if an in-person group can’t be accessed.
So, what to look for:
no fee or low fee
A group of about 4 – 10 people (too few doesn’t feel like a group and too many make it more impersonal and unwieldy).
You want a group with little turnover (people return when they benefit).
An experienced, knowledgeable and approachable facilitator(s).
Written rules that are reasonable and enforced (like confidentiality).
A physical facility that is comfortable, convenient, private, and unlikely to change in the foreseeable future.
A group where everyone is invited to speak; no one dominates the discussion and the facilitator is skilled in keeping the pace so everyone who wants to speak can do so.
A place that feels as safe, welcoming, and helpful as a foreign embassy in a far-off country when you’re in a jam.
What information to seek
frequency and duration of meetings?
virtual, in-person, or both?
how is confidentiality maintained?
does the group have guest speakers?
is a “pass” rule accepted? (attendees can decline to speak)
are visitors/students /children allowed to attend?
what are the qualifications and experience of the facilitator?
is there continuity in membership over time?
How to find a group:
ask your healthcare provider
local hospitals often host meetings on various topics
dial or text “988”
online: Mental Health America
online: National Mental Health Consumers Self-Help Clearinghouse
online: Victim Connect
online: Homicide, Inc.
Parents of Murdered Children (will help adults find support, too)
larger law enforcement agencies (see “community outreach” or “victim services”)
for minors: The Dougy Center
Finally – search for a group just like you’d search for a “good fit” with a health care provider. If it doesn’t work out – chances are good you won’t just give up on medicine. You’d find another doctor! The same goes for support groups!