Internet Grief Support: With the good comes the bad

Obviously, we are big proponents of grief support on the internet…because WYG offers grief support on the internet, keep up people.

Although the world of internet grief support is relatively new and evolving, in general we’ve 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 be 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….since 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.” 

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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, 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 are 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 learn a little 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 is 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 chronical their grief process or create a sort of grief memoir.  It isn’t realistic for everyone to publish a book, and it is 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 shown 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, ER 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, ebooks, 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 via skype.  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 28-day 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 it would make required standards, education, and qualifications pretty much impossible.

With grief being seen as a ‘soft’ problem (yeah, we know it’s not), people often feel just having gone through it qualifies them to advise others, 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, when we are desperate to escape the pain of grief we can be increasingly vulnerable to the snake oil salesmen’s pitch.  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!  Moreover, when help 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 is with someone who has training and experience in grief and/or facilitating groups if your attending 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 grief services on the internet if you think we missed anything.  Also, if you have questions please feel free to email us at [email protected]  We know we don’t have all the answers, but hopefully we can help you find some answers.

March 28, 2017

8 responses on "Internet Grief Support: With the good comes the bad"

  1. I agree that with the good comes the bad. We wouldn’t know the good in life without being able to compare it to the bad. I appreciate this internet grief support site. It’s true that a good moderator is important in any forum to keep it positive and focused on uplifting. Thanks for sharing!
    http://cshospice.org/programs/grief-support/

  2. My best friend Katie is struggling with substance abuse. She just went into inpatient rehab again, thankfully. But I’m worried that she won’t let us support her and help her through her addiction when she gets out, so we’re really going to encourage her to find some online support groups.

  3. This site sounds really cool! I love the idea of having a site where you can just vent and/or get help and advice with your problems. Hopefully places like this help a lot of people, as I imagine they do. Helping with the teen who abuses substances, to helping someone contemplating ending it all. Thank you for providing this safe place for people!

  4. I have had experiences with online groups, good and bad. And obviously since I subscribe to this blog I am trying to work with my grief. One area where there Is Not a whole lot of support is Adult Sibling Loss. My 65 year old brother died May 1, after a lifetime of Polio-induced paralysis. He was a remarkable person. He was human and had many demons. We (siblings) donated his body to the Rusk Institute that kept him alive and helped him to live independently in Chelsea, NYC for 40 years. Being raised with a disabled sibling made our lives very different. We are pulling together a life celebration this Friday. But after that, mourning will be a lonely place.

    We did not tell our Mother, as she has advanced Alzheimer’s. We took a vote and included her primary Caregiver. I wanted to tell her, but the tide went the other way.

    There is so much to grapple with when the deceased is 65 and all siblings are 55+. I just wish I could find an online touchpoint. Thampnks for letting me vent!

  5. Excellent post – thank you. There is so much fantastic support and information out there, but, like everything on the internet, there are those who are there to serve their own ends, or who may have good intentions but lack experience or training and may fail to provide support and even cause harm. Those who are grieving are particularly vulnerable. Just because we’ve experienced grief and recovery ourselves doesn’t give us any qualification to ‘heal’ others.

  6. I lost a child to cancer and have had some involvement with every modality you list here. This a very sound and balanced advice.

  7. good post. I have had good and bad experiences with online support groups, but unfortunately mostly bad. One time I actually got kicked out of an online support group because I was not willing to say that I “felt better” and the moderator accused me of “wallowing in grief and not being willing to heal”. This was, by the way, two months after I lost the person I loved the most in my whole life. Two months. Another grief support group I joined turned out to be dominated by two or three people who used all their posts to proselytize their religion and force it into everyone’s faces, saying that no one could heal grief without their version of religion! Yet, from both groups I gained internet friends and supporters, one of whom I still write to. So check them out….but be wary!!

  8. Marty Tousley (@GriefHealing)July 7, 2015 at 1:16 pmReply

    Thank you for addressing this, Litsa. Interested readers will find some additional precautions listed here: Finding Reliable Grief Information and Support on the Internet, http://bit.ly/gMTyIG

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