We are obviously big proponents of online grief support. After all, that’s what WYG is all about! Although the world of internet grief support is relatively new and evolving, we’ve generally found that online and social media platforms offer an amazing way for people to find support at their own pace, in their own time, and in the comfort of their own homes/office cubicles. We’re so happy to say that we encounter new and exciting online grief support all the time, and we love being able to share these resources with you because that’s one more outlet for healing. The more good grief support, the better… What could go wrong? Well, you asked…
As often as we learn about new and exciting internet grief support, we also stumble upon many things posing as grief support that make us go “Hmmmm.”
Although we might give these things the skeptical side eye, we usually keep our mouths shut. We aren’t the bosses of the internet; to each his own; if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything; you get the picture! Not only that, but we know grievers can find help and healing in all sorts of places. So, far be it from us to label things negative that could possibly help another person.
Anyway, the whole idea of online grief support is new and growing; the kinks will work themselves out and the frauds will be revealed. That’s how things usually work, right? Well maybe not, but we still believe in it and so we try to keep an open mind and say, Maybe there’s merit in here that we just can’t see.
At the same time, we’re at a place where we feel like we need to at least caution our readers. Anecdotally, it’s become clear that some people have a (selfish) bottom line, not everyone has the best of intentions, and sometimes people with good intentions find themselves in over their heads.
364 days out of the year, we encourage you to keep an open mind about the types of things that can help… But today, we want to take a minute to warn you about some of the dangers so you know when you need to be cautious, ask questions, and listen to your gut.
Grief Forums and Social Media Groups
The Bright Side: Forums and groups can be amazing places where you can connect with other people who have common interests or experiences. Whether it’s your love for collecting antique fly-swatters or your experience losing a loved one, chances are you can find a forum, Facebook group, subreddit, or the like of people to connect with. This is great news if you don’t have support groups in your area, if you just aren’t interested in an in-person support group, or if you’re looking for connection with others to supplement your in-person relationships.
The Dark Side: Forums are not always moderated and, just like the real-world, they can be filled with less-than-helpful people. You know, that angry woman around the corner who is always cursing at your kids, comes to community meetings drunk, and refuses to ever let anyone speak? Yeah, she might be antiqueflyswatterqueen276 on your forum.
A good moderator can often assist a forum in keeping the conversation constructive, productive, and positive. They can also make sure that the peer-to-peer ‘advice’ given is consistent with researched and evidence-based practices. Without a moderator, forums can devolve into deep cesspools of negativity and breeding grounds for unfounded criticism or advice. Does this always happen? No, thank goodness! But it is important to know the risk is there. We strongly recommend checking to make sure you are in a moderated forum or group, and learning a bit about who the moderator (or moderators) are so you can feel confident they are someone you trust.
Blogs and Vlogs
The Bright Side: The definition of a blog is simple; it is just a website that gets updated on a regular basis. It could be daily, weekly, or monthly, but—one way or another—it’s a place where new content is added all the time. A vlog is a video blog, where the author updates it not by writing new entries, but by posting new videos regularly.
Blogs are great for grievers, because many use blogs or vlogs in the same way they would use a journal: to chronicle their grief process or create a sort of grief memoir. It isn’t realistic for everyone to publish a book, and it’s logistically hard to share the contents of your journal with anyone out there who might appreciate it, but a blog makes sharing your writing attainable for anyone. The upside for their readers who are grieving is that, by sharing in the author’s experiences, you know that there are others going through similar experiences. It allows people to feel less alone, and sometimes helps to see things from a different perspective.
The Dark Side: While reading the experience of others can be incredible beneficial, it can sometimes take a toll on your physical, mental, and emotional well-being. We have all been down that internet blackhole where you just can’t stop reading, going from post to post to post. When we take on the pain of another through the sharing of their experiences, it can take a serious emotional toll—especially when we are already emotionally depleted in our grief.
Studies have actually suggested that empathy for another actually triggers the pain centers in our own brains. Additionally, vicarious trauma is a very real condition in which the trauma of others can be detrimental to our own health and mental health. Vicarious trauma is normally thought of in the context of counselors, social workers, nurses, and others in ‘helping professions’ because it is a product of repeatedly bearing witness to another’s trauma. The internet, however, has made it easier for anyone to expose themselves to the trauma of others. If you’ve ever stayed glued to the television after a national or international tragedy, you should kind of understand what we mean. In small doses, consumption of this content can be valuable… but in excess and for people especially disposed to compassion fatigue, it can become dangerous and unproductive.
Access to Online Counseling, E-Books, Classes, Workshops and Retreats
The Bright Side: The internet has made it easier than ever to find services. No grief counselors in your area? No problem! Many licensed therapists are now offering services virtually. Looking for ways to learn more about your grief? The internet has you covered again: A quick search can bring up all sorts of resources and services being offered that you never would have located 20 years ago.
The Dark Side: The background and training required for those who offer these services online is non-existent. Anyone can put together an online course, conference, retreat, or program and then market and sell it through their website and/or social media. To make things even more confusing, beneficial grief support can come in two different packages: peer support and professional support. Both of these things can be good, but you can see how they make required standards, education, and qualifications pretty much impossible.
With grief being seen as a “soft” problem (even though it’s definitely not), people often feel just having gone through it qualifies them to advise others—and for a hefty price! We’ve seen people offering grief detoxes, retreats, and online programs to “cure” your grief; and these offerings are sometimes based on nothing more than the creators own experiences.
Though we probably wouldn’t allow someone to preform our open-heart surgery just because they themselves had open-heart surgery, we can be increasingly vulnerable to the snake oil salesmen’s pitch when we’re desperate to escape the pain of grief. Would you pay hundreds of dollars to be cured of your pain? Sometimes yes! And so people fall for the promise of transformation. Please always remember: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is! And what helped one person in their grief might not work for another or, worse, could be detrimental to another person.
At the end of the day, although it’s not ideal, it is up to the individual griever to look into the backgrounds of those claiming to be experts. Trust can typically be found in things like credentials, education, years of formal experience, training, or a recommendation from a reliable source. If you are seeking services, make sure it’s with someone who has training and experience in grief and/or facilitating groups. This person should be able to understand the individual nature of grief and they should be able to see beyond the truth of their own biases and experiences. Ideally, the person should also be able to recognize when they are in over their heads and know how and when to refer someone struggling with underlying issues like anxiety, substance abuse, and depression to those who can provide them with the help the need.
Lastly, we’ll say it again: Be cautious, ask questions, take some things with a grain of salt, trust your gut, and have confidence in your judgement.
We know you have likely seen some of the wonderful and concerning things on the web targeting grievers. Please leave a comment with your own words of warning regarding online grief services if you think we missed anything. Also, if you have questions please feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We know we don’t have all the answers, but hopefully we can help you find some answers!