“I’m not crazy.” “I don’t need medication.” “I already have a support system.” “That’s only for rich people.”
Regardless of the stigmas associated with counseling and therapy, when you’ve been through the trauma of a death or other loss, talking to a professional may be what it takes to help you see beyond the darkness around you right now.
As a grief recovery specialist, I see clients who have benefited from therapy in the past – and those who have never spoken to a professional before. The common thread is that all of them have experienced loss in some way, and all of them are looking for a way in which to process that grief in a healthy and effective way.
What is grief counseling?
Grief counseling is a therapeutic exercise with a distinct goal – helping you come to a healthy “resolution” to your loss. Whether that loss is the death of a loved one or a traumatic change in life, like a divorce or the loss of a job, your grief counselor is there to help guide your grief – not stifle it. Grief is the natural reaction to loss, and the feelings that come along with it – those of sadness, yearning, guilt, regret and anger – and it’s imperative that you feel them. Talk therapy, as I call it, not only allows you to harness and process these feelings, it also helps you envision and forge a new life – one with an identity and trajectory that is accepting of the loss.
So why a grief counselor? The bottom line is that grieving alone isn’t healthy. The ways in which you cope with grief could be delaying – or even preventing – the healing process. For example, common coping mechanisms, like “staying strong,” “keeping busy,” and “replacing the loss” don’t allow you to really feel the void in your life. Feeling is vital to healing, and that’s exactly what talk therapy is all about.
What to expect
Recently, I met with several first-time counseling seekers in one afternoon. As part of National Suicide Prevention Week, I offered free grief counseling sessions to anyone in need at a local bookstore. Everyone who attended these sessions had a couple commonalities: all had experienced loss, and all were new to grief counseling. The unknown can be intimidating (or let’s be honest – scary), so I think it’s important for anyone considering talk therapy to know what to expect.
In your first session, you’ll share the details of your loss. Once we have a mutual understanding of the circumstances and effects of the loss, we’ll explore the grieving process together, realizing that it is unique for every individual. The bottom line is that getting help is a sign of strength, and I make sure that every one of my clients understands this.
In subsequent sessions, we explore the myriad emotions of grief in complete honesty. These include those feelings of guilt, blame, shame and anger that you may be hesitant to share. We’ll work through the principle that grief is cumulative, and all other losses in your life are inexorably connected to this one. It’s important to understand how and if you grieved these losses. I’ll ask you to think about how your parents handled loss, what you were taught to believe about loss, and what you believe now.
The thing is, grief recovery isn’t just about the bereavement that’s staring you in the face when you wake up in the morning. It’s about a lifetime of losses buried over time that have culminated in the feelings of sadness and hopelessness triggered by your current loss. Developing and honing the ability to let go of cumulative grief is the only way to recover in a healthy way. The beautiful thing about grief counseling is that when you attain the goal of recovery, you’ll be better prepared to handle losses you experience in the future – not to overlook the fact that you’ll simply be able to envision a future.
For more information on grief counseling, visit www.thegriefgirl.com.