Uniting in Grief: Students Start Grief and Loss Group at the Wright Institute Clinic

Second-year Clinical Psychology students Eyal Matalon and Anna Weicker recently launched a process group through the Wright Institute Psychodynamic Clinic for members of the community dealing with grief and loss.

“Grief and loss are topics steeped in feelings of isolation,” Anna said. “When you lose something that’s vital to you, it often feels like something nobody understands; but, at the same time, recovering from grief and loss is all about connecting with people and being able to share in that experience.”

Eyal added, “Many countries and cultures have rituals around grief and loss that are about bringing people together because it can be such an isolating experience.”

Unlike a psychoeducation group or a cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) group, process groups rely on the relationships built among the members. “Here, the intervention is all about the interaction among the group members and how they relate to each other,” Anna explained. “Grief ended up being a great topic for this because it is entirely universal. Grief and loss are things everyone, in small and large ways, will deal with in their lives.”

In the context of group therapy, clients have the opportunity to learn about their own and other people’s coping strategies, Eyal explained.

“Coming into a process group is like entering a house of mirrors,” he said. “All of those mirrors are not perfect reflections of you because the reflection you get back from each person is both true and not the whole truth. Together though one can create a composite that helps them understand what I do in everyday life and what I project into the world.”

Eyal continued, “People respond to grief and loss using whatever means they know how. Being in a group like this is an opportunity to learn which parts of what they do are working and which other ways of coping they might want to try on instead.”

Anna and Eyal devised the group to apply skills from their training at the Wright Institute, while expanding upon and growing their clinical knowledge and experience.

“We are learning this as we go, which is so exciting” Anna said. “We received a lot of support from Dr. [Diane] Kaplan, the Clinic Director, as well as having our own supervisor for this group specifically, who has a lot of experience leading groups.”

In order to create the group, Anna and Eyal conceptualized its focus, marketed it, screened prospective members, communicated with clinicians who practice from various orientations, and ultimately got it up and running.

“Being a group therapist is different from being an individual therapist in so many ways,” Eyal said. “Our primary purpose here is to facilitate relational understandings not just between us and the client, but instead facilitating relational understanding among group members, and every group member is going to activate something different in each other member. In essence, we are facilitating opportunities in which members can learn from each other and be helpful to each other.”

The power in this model comes from the fact that people hear feedback differently when it comes from another real-world citizen than they do from a trained therapist, Eyal said. “The other beauty of this is that when a group member is able to say something to another client that is very helpful to them, that feels really good, and that in and of itself can be very healing.”

Although the group has just started, Anna and Eyal already feel its impact.

“I was in awe of our group members, who stepped into this space and took such a huge risk in being vulnerable with people they didn’t even know,” Anna said. “To put yourself out there and say, ‘I don’t know how to grieve, and it’s really scary, but I know I need to do it to be better’ and have that be met by a group of other people going through the same thing is so powerful.”

Eyal Added, “Oftentimes people going through grief end up feeling like they have to take care of other people they are telling about it—not share too much and overwhelm people—so they are carrying this double burden. Here, those rules no longer apply, and that is profoundly healing.”

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