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Leading a Group Discussion after a Tragedy

Over the next weeks, many youth groups will gather as they normally do on Wednesday or Sunday nights. I am sure one of the topics of discussion at these gatherings will be the recent tragedy in Broward County. Church workers are close to my heart, and they can sometimes have a difficult job of processing information with those who are highly emotionally charged about an event. I want to outline the process of discussing events that take place in our nation and in our community following a tragedy.

As you lead discussion about this tragedy in South Florida, it is important to remember a couple things:

1. Everyone will have a different emotional reaction to the situation. Everyone’s emotions are valid and should not be judged.

2. As you lead a group through a process of defusing as discussed below is important to establish confidentiality within the group.

3. You, as a leader, need to be aware of your own emotions and opinions and how that will affect the group. Have someone, outside of the group, that you will process this with before and after leading the group discussion.

Defusing: a formatted group discussion about a trauma or crisis

Introduction Phase:
• Give the basic facts of the event
- A brief summary of what has occurred as you will dive more into the facts in the next phase of discussion

• Establish Rules for discussion:
- Confidentiality: what is shared in the group stays in the group
- No Put Downs
- No interrupting: one person talks at a time
- Talk about yourself: talk about your own feelings and what you have experienced

Fact Phase:
• Explore and explain the sequence of events
- This is a beneficial time to dispel any rumors or misinformation that may be out there
• Let students discuss their role in the event
- At this time focus on the facts of how they heard about the event and what they know about the event.

Feeling Phase:
• Allow students, who desire, to explore and share feelings related to the event
• Feelings to explore:
- Mad, Sad, Glad, and Scared
• Goal as a leader is to listen and validate each person
- Important not to share your own feelings and beliefs at this time

Teaching Phase:
• Leader shares information regarding normal reactions to stress that individual may experience
- Questioning Faith
- Scared of Death
- Feelings of depression or anxiety
- Withdrawing from social interaction
• Leader shares information about what to expect both physically and emotionally
- Fear of being alone
- Scared about one’s safety
- Nightmares or trouble sleeping
- Going over and over the event in your head

Closing Phase:
• It’s important to establish a plan of action of how the group can continue with daily functioning following this tragedy.
- What types of things we will post on social media?
- How can we talk positively about the event and promote healing?
• Can also share information about any follow up action the group may be taking.
- Is there something we can do to help?
- How would our group like to respond?
• How can we hold each other accountable for taking care of ourselves following this discussion?
- Should we be checking in on each other?
- Should we have another time to discuss this topic in a couple of weeks?
• Prayer
- Pray for the community
- Pray for forgiveness and healing

I pray that this resource will be helpful for you in processing this tragedy that has impacted our nation. Please know that Lutheran Counseling Services is available to assist in a variety of ways as you work with youth and adults in congregation to process this tragedy.

Written By: Megan Miessler, LCSW, DCE