The purpose of this study was to describe the experience of family members participating in an intensive care unit support group. The family experience of an adult family member's critical illness is filled with emotional distress, suffering, and difficulty coping. Few family nursing interventions to care for family members of ICU patients have been researched. Research is inconsistent regarding the value of a support group in the ICU setting of a hospital. A qualitative design, using hermeneutic phenomenology was chosen. Five interviews were conducted with seven family members. The experience of participating in an ICU support groups was analyzed within Van Manen's (1990) framework of lived space, lived relation, lived body, and lived time. An overall pattern of gaining strength was uncovered. Within the support group experience, families found their lived space occupied by trying to understand, wherein subthemes of exchanging information, decision making, and sense of direction were identified. Being not alone was a reflection of families' lived relation with subthemes of nursing presence and being together with other families. The life world of lived body was identified as comforting. After initial experiences of vulnerability with others in the support group and intensive care unit setting, families found comfort by sharing their story and sharing suffering. The final life world of lived time was experienced by family members as pausing; an opportunity to take a break from the experience of having a loved one as a patient in the ICU. Findings suggest support groups can be a useful intervention for ICU nurses to help families gain strength to endure the stressful experience of having a family member hospitalized in the ICU.


Sandra K. Eggenberger

Committee Member

Karen Willette-Murphy

Date of Degree




Document Type



Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)


School of Nursing


Allied Health and Nursing

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License



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