Counseling – Religious or Secular?

WSN-MO: Widower to Widower with Fred Colby

Shortly after my wife of 45 years passed in 2015, I found myself in the deepest pit of despair. I knew that I was in trouble, and I could not find the answers all by myself. So, I asked myself, “Where can I go for help?” 

For many of us, this may lead to having to make a choice: “Do I turn to a church for help? Or, do I turn to secular organizations for help?” For me, the answer was made easier by the fact that my church did not offer any counseling support, so I naturally turned to Pathways Hospice, which provides one of the best Grief and Loss programs in the country.

However, many churches do offer some form of grief counseling to help their parishioners through the challenges which face them after losing a loved one. Many of these are happy to welcome their neighbors, no matter what their religious affiliation. Through, widowers can often find churches in their area which offer support groups to help you through your grieving.

But, if you are looking for secular or non-church affiliated help, you may have to look far and wide to find local support groups. My recommendation is to first go to your local hospice and ask if they provide grief counseling or if they can recommend some organization in the area which does offer this service.

You may have to hunt around, and the online resources are limited. Here is a couple you can look at:

National Hospice & Palliative Care Organization

National Widowers Organization

If you have a strong church affiliation, going to your church counseling group makes perfect sense. It offers familiarity, a faith-based approach that supports your world view, and genuinely caring people to support you. However, there are some potential issues, such as:

  • You know the people too well and don’t feel comfortable opening up to them,
  • The group leaders are not specifically trained for grief counseling, or
  • Topics may seem to be narrowly defined to theological issues, rather than the very human issues you are struggling with.

A more secular approach may suit you better if you are just not ready to turn to God for help right now, or if you feel that the professionally trained staff at a hospice are better able to support you, or if you are not comfortable in a faith-based setting. In a secular setting, you might:

  • Feel there is not enough open discussion of faith as a part of the healing process,
  • Not be comfortable being in a group of guys and/or women in coed groups who you never met before, or
  • Long for the comfort of a faith-based setting.

The only thing I can tell you for sure is that grief groups and grief counseling can be invaluable to your healing process. So, don’t be deterred if you are not able to immediately find the right group to participate in. Keep looking if your first preference (faith-based or secular) is not available or does not work out. Try another group, another counselor, until you find what works for you.

I can tell you from experience that these groups if run properly, are wonderfully welcoming and supportive if you give them a chance. I have seen many widowers come into their first meeting with their arms crossed and their demeanor screaming, “Please leave me alone and just let me suffer by myself.” 

And I have seen almost all of these widowers come around by the end of their first meeting, often saying something like, “I did not know what to expect, but I am so glad that I decided to come. I will be back for the next meeting.” Often, they later ask why we can’t meet more than once a month and say the group meetings have been invaluable to them.

So, whatever your preference is – faith-based or secular – make a decision and find the right group for you. It can help you survive this hell-on-earth experience through support, camaraderie, and the sharing of lessons learned. Most importantly, you discover that you are not alone!

© Copyright 2020 Fred Colby

All rights reserved


Fred Colby is the author of Widower to Widower, which is available on You can find Fred’s column appearing here on WSN-MO every other Tuesday. Widower to Widower is available through your local bookstore, my website, and Amazon. Buy Widower to Widower through Amazon. (If living in Canada go to Widower to Widower – Amazon-Canada) See Testimonies and Reviews of Widower to Widower. Website: Fred Colby, Author


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