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Reflections on Doctors in Distress’ Space to Think Group

'I wish I could turn the clock back.'


'Why didn’t I notice anything?' 'What didn’t I see?' 'They seemed so happy.' 'Everything seemed OK. How did I miss seeing that everything was not OK?' 'I am so angry they did this.' 'There was no chance to say goodbye. And now the void.' 


These are some of the things we hear in the group from colleagues, family and friends who have experienced a sudden, unexpected death by suicide of someone close to them.  


The logo for Doctors in Distress charity
Doctors In Distress

Space To Think, a bereavement group made up of six virtual sessions each lasting 90 minutes, was provided by the charity Doctors in Distress.  It was convened by the charity in recognition of the numbers of nursing staff lost to suicide and also in consideration of the impact of sudden loss as a result of suicide on nurses, be it by a colleague, patient, family member or close friend.  


As a Group Psychotherapist I have co-run groups for doctors and their families experiencing loss as a result of suicide over a number of years. The task of the group was to build and create a sense of trust between the group members. My role was to make sure that it was a confidential space where what was talked about goes no further than the group. The space needed to be safe for all to say what they may not be able to say elsewhere, even to those closest to them.


I spoke to each member who expressed an interest in coming to the group for about 15 minutes prior to joining. This was in the interests of determining that it was the correct group for each person, re-assuring each that there may be a lot to cry about and crying in the group is natural. Speaking about the pain of loss brings a tear to my eye too. I am very aware that this is a painful place to be and not where anyone wants to be.  As one member said in a doctors group, ‘this is like a club no-one wants to join!’ This is true of course but sometimes we don’t get a choice and it is very important to find a space with others who know what it feels like for their world to be shaken to the core. 


Can any of us make sense of why someone would seemingly choose to end their life? The group is not about trying to make sense of something, perhaps not one of us can really understand. It is about not feeling alone with the overwhelming feelings of grief. The group sets a tone of being connected to others who are going through or have gone through what you are going through now or in the recent past. Other members of the group may be able to put into words the feelings you are experiencing but are unable to express at this time. We all know that the grief of loss never goes away. It may ease but it will always be there and others in the group know this too. 


I truly believe in the power of talking. I am also very aware that this may be the hardest thing to do when you are worried that as a result of speaking you may break down in front of others.  If we were in the same room, (sadly not the case as the group has been virtual), you would see that tissues are always there.  

people sat in a circle in front of a window looking at a man sat in a chair who is speaking in a group therapy session
Man speaking in group session

This group has hopefully provided a safe space where difficult thoughts can be put into words in the confidence of knowing what has been said will go no further. I stress: it is a confidential space and members do not meet outside the group sessions which are provided virtually. 


One very important thing to note is that it takes enormous courage to join a group.  It is perfectly understandable for there to be some anxiety about how it will feel.  Will I be able to speak to others and will I be able to listen to others talking about painful feelings? Will they listen to me? Well the fact is that the anxiety is real but does ease gradually. 


As the person leading the group I can honestly say I have huge admiration for the courage of all who have given their own time and energy and commitment to the group. We have all learned something new in the presence of each other. The group engenders huge generosity among the members who know how it feels to have been bereaved without the chance to say goodbye.  


Frances Griffiths

Group Analyst and Psychotherapist. 


If you're a nurse, nursing associate, midwife, health care assistant, student in these professions or friends and family of these groups who have been affected by the issues raised here and need to talk, feel free to use our support line | 0808 801 0455 | Monday-Friday, 7-10pm | Email if you prefer to email |

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