When dealing with the death of a loved one, attending a community support group can sometimes be helpful for the bereaved. Through partnership with Bereaved Families of Ontario – Toronto, we built a website called Besupp based on the characteristics underlying their most successful groups:
- Like-loss. Members of a support group have all experience the same kind of loss.
- Peer-facilitated. The only people allowed into a group are those who have suffered a loss themselves. No doctors, clergy, psychologists, therapists or other professionals will tell you how to “fix your grief.”
- Screened. Everyone in the group is placed there by a trained facilitator, and is at a state where they are able to participate in the group.
Three support groups used Besupp for a period of 10 weeks. Based on system logs and interviews with participants, we found out some interesting things.
- Mementos have limited usefulness. Digital mementos were helpful for getting to know one another, but had limited usefulness after that. They sometimes drew participants backwards to negative emotions, as opposed to helping them cope.
- Giving support can be as important as receiving it. Several people used Besupp because they wanted to share the benefit of their experience as a bereaved person, not because they actually wanted support back from their group.
- Don’t confuse grief, mourning, coping, and remembrance. These are all different activities that often conflated in websites for the bereaved. The places we visit to feel close to loved ones are often different than the places where we talk about our grief, and that’s a good thing.
- Small, quiet communities can be interesting too! The Besupp community was small and participants didn’t use it nearly as much as we thought. Even so, building Besupp gave participants a valuable place to vent, and yielded significant insights about how to better design for the bereaved and about their values.
For more, see the full paper, Exploring Remembrance and Social Support Behavior in an Online Support Group.
Michael Massimi, Microsoft Research Cambridge