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June 19, 2012 > Support When You Need It

Support When You Need It

Hospital's Support Groups Meet a Variety of Individual Needs, Challenges

No two people are alike when it comes to processing challenging life events such as the death of a loved one or living with a chronic or terminal condition. The same is true of the support groups at Washington Hospital - no two are exactly alike.

Some of the groups are focused on providing concrete health and wellness related information and enable participants to share functional tips - such as heart-healthy recipes and tips for stress management - along with social and emotional support. Others may incorporate aspects of spiritual support as well.

However, despite the unique focus of each group, they are all there to provide support for those seeking it, according to Washington Hospital's Spiritual Care Coordinator Rabbi D'vorah Rose, who along with volunteer on-call clergy, provides patients and their loved ones with 24-hour access to religious and spiritual support.

"The key thing about support groups, I think, is that there's a lot of anecdotal and research evidence showing that they are really effective for people who want to be in them," she says. "I run the Grief Support Group, and sometimes people come to me after losing somebody, and they say, 'How is this helpful?'

"While I will provide a brief overview of what the group offers, what I usually recommend is: come and check it out. Come a few times. The truth is some people do very well processing their issues on their own and don't need to be with other people, and there are other people upon whom these groups have a profoundly positive impact. And if one group isn't helpful, another one might be."

Part of the purpose behind the hospital's wide variety of support groups is to meet the unique needs of individuals facing diverse life challenges. Rabbi Rose provides an example.

"Take, for instance, a 60-year-old man who's had a stroke and whose father died recently; the grief group may not be the right place, but he may find the stroke group really helpful, because stroke is probably the thing that's freshest for him, and being with other survivors will be more useful at that point in time.

"A year later, after adjusting to life post-stroke, he may then realize that he hasn't talked about the loss of his father. Then maybe he really needs the grief group. There's a lot of variety in how people cope."

Often, she says people find that they can benefit from multiple support groups at the same time.

"It's incredibly individualized, and we always encourage people - even if they're sure it's not going to do anything - to just come check it out."

Rabbi Rose says the nature of support groups is to provide a forum for people to share experiences about things that are not easy - life events that are challenging and sometimes frightening, as well as to share information and ideas about how individual participants are successfully meeting these challenges.

"Support groups are often for things that are scary," she says. "They are for bereavement, stroke, cancer, diabetes, for difficulty breathing - these are all very scary things. For some, it's unsettling enough that they don't want to come to the group, or they don't want to come back after one visit.

"When people who are interested in attending particular support groups tell me it feels like it might be emotionally difficult to be there, I suggest two possibilities. The first is that they spend a little time talking with the leader of that group beforehand, so that there will then be at least one person whom they know. The second is to bring a support person to the meeting."

Ultimately, Rabbi Rose says it's important to give it a try if you think a support group might be helpful.

"I think the biggest issue is nobody knows if it will be helpful until they try it out," she says. "For instance, a 45-year-old woman who tried a support group when she was 20 after her mother died might say the group 20 years ago was terrible, but each group is vastly different, and I always encourage people who have tried it before to check it out again, because they could have a very different experience.

"The support groups at the hospital are free, they're drop in, and there's no commitment. I've never had anyone walk out in the middle of a group meeting, but it's okay if they do. Sometimes people are very overwhelmed. When they are, I suggest they come back at a later date and see if it's a better fit at that time."

Rabbi Rose says each of the support groups at the hospital potentially touch upon issues that impact people's emotions and sense of self. And some of the groups, such as the Grief Support Group, have been created to address an issue - like the death of a loved one - that can prompt reflections or questions about an individual's spiritual or religious beliefs, their spiritual wellbeing, and sometimes even about mortality.

"For the Grief Support Group, I bring in information as appropriate about different religious traditions and cultural approaches to coping, but only if people ask. As with everything else inside the hospital, when addressing these questions, the Grief Support Group's approach is always from an interfaith perspective that respects the needs and beliefs of the individual and their family members."

For a complete list of support groups and contact information, you can obtain a free copy of Washington Hospital's Health & Wellness Catalog by calling (800) 963-7070 or visiting whhs.com to download a copy.

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