COULD YOU BENEFIT FROM GRIEF COUNSELING?
“I feel like I’m going crazy!” “How long will this last?”
“Will I ever stop crying?”
“Is it normal to feel so much anger?”
“Everyone says I need to move on with my life. How do I do that?”
“Will I ever get over this?”
These are only a few of the myriad questions people ask when they seek grief counseling. The grieving process is incredibly complex. It is a powerful emotional experience that can be difficult to truly understand until it becomes personal to you. If you’re reading this page, however, you know firsthand the deep-down, gut-wrenching impact of grief. You want the pain and despair to end. You don’t want to get out of bed in the morning. You cry all day or you sit in a stupor. You can’t concentrate or focus enough to even read a newspaper. You get irritated with friends who try to cheer you up or take your mind off it. Most of all, you desperately want your old life back.
GRIEF IS A UNIVERSAL HUMAN REACTION TO LOSS
Although grief is a universal experience, it is uniquely personal to each individual. No two people grieve exactly the same. The emotional intensity of grief also varies greatly.
All of us experience small losses every day that trigger the grieving process. One of the first models of the grieving process was developed by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross when she identified the fives stages of grief that many people are familiar with – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. I can recall an illustration used by my mentor when I first started my training as a grief counselor. She used the example of losing one’s keys to demonstrate the grieving process. It went something like this:
THE GRIEVING PROCESS:
You’re ready to leave for work. When you go to pick up
your keys, they aren’t on the table where you left them (LOSS).
You can’t believe it; you know you put them there the night
before. You keep coming back to the table to make sure you
didn’t just overlook them (DENIAL). You search everywhere,
swearing under your breath at our own stupidity (ANGER).
When you still can’t find the keys, you feel defeated. You’re going to be late to work again.
You’re sure you’ll be fired this time (DEPRESSION). Okay, you give up on finding the keys
and decide whether to call a locksmith or take a cab to work (ACCEPTANCE).
Dependent on your personality and degree of resiliency, you’re able to shake off the incident very quickly, or you may continue to be upset the rest of the day and return to any one of these stages in your thoughts.
Imagine that the keys are someone you loved very deeply and they’re gone. The intensity of these emotional stages are increased a million-fold. Other models for the grieving process have been identified since Kubler-Ross introduced her stages of grief. The lost keys analogy makes the stages model appear to be a linear, step-by-step experience. Most people, however, say they vacillate among all of them. This is normal.
HOW WOULD GRIEF COUNSELING BENEFIT ME?
First and foremost, grief counseling provides you with a supportive listener, someone who cares and understands your need to talk. One of the ways we heal from grief is through telling our story again and again, essentially creating new neural pathways for living without the lost loved one. Have you noticed that friends and even family members drift away after the first few weeks or months, encouraging you to move on or even worse, to “get over it?” The grieving process cannot be rushed, and you never “get over” the loss. You do heal, however, and incorporate the loss into your life experience. Having someone who can normalize your emotional reactions helps you to know that you are not going crazy. You’re grieving.
You may benefit from grief counseling by gaining a better understanding of factors that may impact you.
- What was the nature of the relationship?
- Was the death unexpected or violent or caused by suicide?
- Could the death have been prevented?
- Was the death untimely, e.g., a child or young adult?
- If someone was at fault, were they brought to justice?
- Did you experience trauma that is causing intrusive thoughts and images?
Grief counseling can help you work through these complications that may be keeping you stuck.
It can help to know that there are two styles of grieving:
(1) Intuitive grief, which is characterized by strong emotional reactions that come in overpowering waves.
(2) Instrumental grief, which is characterized by thinking rather than expression of emotion, an inward, quiet process. In this style, grief is expressed through doing. A father whose son was killed in an accident when he lost control of his car and crashed through a neighbor’s fence might be found repairing the fence the next day. He can’t rescue his son, but he can repair the fence for his son.
Many couples are better able to grieve together when they understand they are both grieving in their own way and it’s okay for them to do it differently.
Grief counselors use several models as a guide for helping their clients. The one I personally have found most helpful to clients is based on the Tasks of Grief (developed by William Worden). These tasks are:
(1) To accept the reality of the loss. This is much easier said than done. Intellectually, one knows the loss is real, but the heart is resistant to the reality. When the reality does sink in, the second task begins.
(2) To work through the pain of grief. This is the task many people try to avoid. Some turn to working and staying excessively busy. Others numb themselves with alcohol or drugs. But this task cannot be avoided. It must be allowed to run its course.
(3) To adjust to a world in which the loved one no longer exists. This is both an internal and an external process that is going on even during the first two stages. It frequently involves redefining oneself and creating a new sense of identity.
(4) Re-engaging in life while still remaining connected in memory to the lost loved one. This is a time of recognizing that you can love forever without grieving forever.
Grief counseling can help you achieve these tasks on your own timetable and in your own way. You will learn skills and techniques that can help ease the journey.
Grief is a process, not an event with a finite beginning and ending. The overall goal of grief counseling is to find renewed meaning and purpose in your life.
I started my counseling career as a hospice bereavement counselor thirteen years ago. I consider it an honor to accompany those who are grieving through their personal journey toward healing.
DON’T STRUGGLE THROUGH YOUR GRIEF JOURNEY ALONE
I can offer you a safe, non-judgmental presence to accompany you through your grief journey. If you would like to schedule an appointment, please call or e-mail me—visit my contact page for more information. If you still have questions or reservations, I’m happy to schedule a free 15-minute phone consult or, if you prefer, you may send your questions to me via e-mail.
I HOPE TO HEAR FROM YOU SOON