An effective bereavement counsellor walks alongside you in your grief and in your process of mourning. As each person’s experience is an individual and complex one, so too will be the counselling journey.
In his book, Grief Counselling and Grief Therapy, J. William Worden PhD outlines what he considers to be the principles of grief counselling. These principles are facilitated by the counsellor. I have listed some of the principles here:
Principle One: Help Actualise the loss – Often when someone dies there is a sense that it is not real. Although you may understand at some level that your loved one is dead and will not return, to become completely aware takes time. A counsellor facilitates this process by listening to you talk about your loss, including how it happened, the funeral, and talking about specific memories you have of the deceased both past and present.
Principle Two: Identify and experience the many and painful feelings of grief – Although you may come to counselling to alleviate your pain more quickly, what counselling does is help you through the pain and gain acceptance as to how you feel. A counsellor will help you through this process in a measured and balanced way, as meeting the pain head on can be overwhelming.
Principle Three: Help you accommodate to life without the deceased – How you adjust will depend on the many roles the deceased played in your life and how well you can fulfil these roles in other ways. A counsellor can help you come to your own decisions about the way forward and reduce the emotional overload which is often experienced. A word of caution: major decisions will often be discouraged, as grief and long term decisions are often not good house buddies.
Principle Four: Facilitate finding meaning in the death – Why is a question that is often asked after a death, and can be processed within counselling.
Principle Five: Find a New Emotional home for the Deceased
Principle Six: Time to grieve is facilitated in counselling. The loss of a loved one has many losses and ramifications which are not always immediately apparent. Through counselling each can be identified, seen, heard and accommodated.
Principle Seven: What is normal? An effective counsellor can help you sift through your experience to help you understand and interpret what you are going through and let you know what is a normal grief reaction.
If you would like to make an appointment for bereavement counselling, please call or email Bronwyn at Your Path Psychotherapy and Counselling.Read More
The communication and actions taken by each person in a relationship intertwine to either create either closeness or disharmony and distance. Each person reacts to the other in habitual ways. They each continue to do more of the same in reaction to a situation, creating a communication spiral which is either generative or degenerative.
Some examples of degenerative spirals may be:
If a wife feels her partner is withdrawing from her emotionally, she may criticize her husband to attempt to bring him closer, but finds he withdraws even further, she reacts by criticising him more.
If a child is not doing well at school, a parent may talk to the child every night to put pressure on them to do better, only to find the child’s grades continue to fall, the parent criticises the child more.
A boss may be dissatisfied with an employee’s work but does not address the issues with them, the employee who feels the boss withdrawing may complain to other employees, the boss continues not to address the employee directly, the employee creates more dissatisfaction in the workplace.
Without action to change the degenerative spirals, they pick up momentum. Marriages may end, children rebel, workplaces become unhappy.
You have the power to change the degenerative spirals you may find yourself in, and change the direction, affirm the relationship and creates closeness.
You can do this by changing your usual actions and patterns in a situation. Try something different. Ask yourself what would create a generative spiral in this situation. For example in the above examples the wife could express gratitude for what the husband does do for her and over time this could draw the husband closer, the parent could stop criticising the child’s grades and spent time with the child doing things they enjoy together, the boss could address the workplace issues directly with the employee, the employee is then motivated by better work conditions.
This is not a quick fix as persistence in relationships is the key. They need to be tended to maintain them. Change may also require the perspective of a supportive third party such as a friend or counsellor to open up new possibilities for action.
If you would like to take a step towards creating generative spirals in your relationships, call, text or email Bronwyn for couples counselling at Your Path Psychotherapy and Counselling in Greenlane, Auckland.Read More
Communication Miracles for Couples is a wonderful book written by Jonathan Robinson. In this book he shares tools which can create communication miracles in your relationship.
Robinson believes that we all want the same thing:
Acknowledgment, Appreciation and Acceptance
These three ingredients convey love between two people. If you provide acknowledgement, appreciation and acceptance to your partner, they will feel more loved. In turn they will also feel more loving towards you.
When couples are having relationship troubles the blame game is usually played. One blames the other, resulting in blame being redirected back out of self-defence. This creates a no win cycle. A cycle where neither partner listens to each other.
If your partner has come to you with a grievance, then Robinson suggests the first step is to acknowledge your partner’s experience of you. (This is not the same as agreeing with them). This validation of their experience, without blame kicking in, allows your partner to feel listened to, and understood. It is only from there that open communication, increased intimacy and a decrease in conflict can result.
If you are having issues in your relationship, or would like to create greater emotional intimacy, make an appointment for couples counselling with Bronwyn at Your Path Psychotherapy and Counselling, in her rooms in Greenlane, Auckland.
Robinson, J. 2008. Communication Miracles for Couples, Conari Press, San Francisco, USA.
Often after the death of a loved one, the question is asked, how long will the pain last? How long can I expect to feel this way?
There is no one universal truth or answer.
One perspective given by Therese Rando, in The Treatment of Complicated Mourning (1993) is that acute grief will normally subside, but mourning may continue for years or even forever. Grief and mourning is a fluctuating process. Some evidence for this can be found in the upsurges of grief around anniversaries, holidays or significant events.
Grief reactions are common after life has had to resume. You are back at work and outside support is starting to be withdrawn. Then, you are hit by a birthday, a wedding anniversary, Christmas, or an event that you would have shared with the deceased. Besides the loss of the loved one you may also have a new loss in the event itself. You are now “confronted with the loss in striking and unexpected ways that poignantly bring home its full measure” (Rando, 1993, p.63). You may experience intense emotions, illness, sleeplessness, disturbing thoughts or a whole range of individual reactions.
It is important to understand the fluctuating nature of mourning, as unexpected grief reactions can be frightening , have you feeling like they are going mad, regressing or judging yourself for not coping as you would want or how others expect you should.
I have listed below some practical suggestions that may help you plan around anniversaries:
Awareness around anniversary dates means that you can pre-empt them and use them as another opportunity to be with your feelings and recognise the impact of the loss.
Find a way to give healthy expression to your feelings – drawing, journaling, a letter to your loved one or action oriented activities such as sport, running, and walking.
Recognising and being with the little losses can also help us be prepared for what works for us in the bigger losses (Neimeyer 2000, p.59).
Organise to do something enjoyable with friends or family. Start a ritual that is significant for you and that can be repeated each year on the anniversary. Plant a tree, make a donation, have a get together.
Create situations where you can talk about your loved one with a supportive others. Often friends decide not to bring them up because they think it will create more pain. Ask friends to be more open about discussing them. Reminisce.
Visit your loved ones grave with family members on the day.
Spend time making a photo collage or a memory book which can be shared and discussed with family and friends.
If your grief means that your ability to function is impaired significantly, then it may be time for specific help to be sought. Share your experience of grief with a counsellor who specialises in grief and bereavement work, make an appointment for grief counselling with Bronwyn at Your Path Psychotherapy and Counselling, in her rooms in Greenlane, Auckland.
Neimeyer, R.A. (2000) Lessons of Loss, A Guide to Coping. Australian Centre for Grief and Bereavement, Australia.
Rando, T.A. (1993) Treatment of Complicated Mourning. Research Press, USA.
I see clients in my counselling practice who are feeling judged for how they are grieving. They are not just judged by others, they judge themselves harshly as well. Perhaps they are very emotional and seeking support, or maybe they are coping with their grief by being active.
The issue of understanding how you grieve is particularly important when couples, or family members are grieving in different ways and are not feeling supported by each other.
Doka and Martin (2010) have proposed a model of grieving styles that may help individuals understand themselves and aid more understanding of others. The model also informs me as a counsellor to design interventions suitable to your grieving style.
The model suggests grieving styles (including how we express and experience grief, and how we adapt to loss) are on a continuum from intuitive to instrumental. Styles can also be blended.
By Intuitive Griever they mean:
- Express: More emotion is shown
- Experience: Grief is experienced mostly as painful feelings
- Adapt to Loss: There is a need to share feelings with others
By Instrumental Griever they mean:
- Express: More thinking and cognitive work is done
- Experience: Grief is experienced intellectually
- Adapt to Loss: There is a need to convert energy to activity or problem solving.
Grief and grieving can be interrupted if you are one style, but are compelled to express or adapt to loss in ways which don’t match your inner experience.
For example a man or a woman may be an intuitive griever, but because of family or societal pressure, may feel the need to ‘man up’ and supress their feelings.
Counselling can help individuals, couples and family members understand each other’s grieving styles, and normalise and validate your own experience of grief. Counselling interventions can also be tailored to your grieving style.
If how you are experiencing grief in a way that you find yourself judging how you are, then consider making an appointment with a counsellor who specialises in grief and bereavement work. Make an appointment with Bronwyn at Your Path Psychotherapy and Counselling, in her rooms in Greenlane, Auckland.
Doka, K.J. PhD and Martin, T. L. PhD (2010) Grieving Styles: Gender and Grief. Grief Matters, Winter 2011. Vol.14:2, pp42-45.
Was anger an emotion allowed expression in your family, and if not, do you have access to that part of you that may feel angry at times?
Or was anger so present that it was being acted out in everyday life in destructive ways?
Maybe you are acting out of anger all the time.
We collectively need to find a new perspective on anger and recognise its importance in accessing the breadth of your emotional wellbeing, but also to allow its expression in healthy respectful ways.
“Anger is a signal, and one worth listening to” Harriet Goldhor Lerner, Ph.D.
The first step in gaining a new perspective is to recognise when you are angry. When you feel the fire of anger rising within you, take pause, do not act out of your anger, but try to clarify the anger.
Ask yourself: why am I angry? Become clearer. What is your anger trying to tell you?
Are you being hurt?
Are your rights being violated?
Is there something you are not attending to in your life?
Are you doing something which is compromising your value and beliefs?
Are you giving too much?
Are others doing too much for you?
Are you agreeing to situations which are unjust?
Are you feeling like you have no choice and have no power in relationships?
Do you deny your needs in favour of your partners?
Are you really angry at yourself?
I will ask that one again, are you really angry at yourself for allowing the situation you now find
Anger in and of itself is an important emotion, its intent is a positive and protective one. Denying anger is to deny yourself.
“Our anger can motivate us to say “no” to the ways in which we are defined by others and ”yes” to the dictates of our inner self” Harriet Goldhor Lerner, Ph.D.
What do we do with our anger?
Expressing anger to another can be non-productive and even hurtful, especially if the aim is to change another person. The likely result is defensiveness, and more anger.
If on the other hand you put all your energy into pre-empting how another person may react should you express your anger, you therefore withhold from what you want or need in favour of harmony. Anger grows inside you until you explode, or get sick. You move further away from yourself every time you allow yourself to move away from what you want under pressure from another.
Or if you just let others have a piece of your anger in a destructive way, then guilt usually quickly follows.
So is there an alternative?
Instead focus your energy on being able to make a clear and succinct statement declaring how you think and feel.
Your only job in this process is to know what you think and feel and then to behave congruently.
It is not your job to get another to think and feel the same way as you.
It takes courage to voice this to another, and even more courage to make choices as a result. But in the long run you are being true to yourself, and respecting both yourself and others in the process.
If you are feeling angry all the time and need clarity about why, or find yourself in angry confrontations where nothing is resolved because each of the parties to the argument blame the other and are defensive, or you can’t seem to tolerate your anger and let it have its voice before you understand its purpose, then then consider making an appointment with a counsellor who can help facilitate clearer understanding. Make an appointment for counselling with Bronwyn at Your Path Psychotherapy and Counselling by phoning 021 127 7738 or send an email to email@example.com. My counselling rooms are in Greenlane, Auckland, skype appointments are also available if necessary. For further details you can also log onto www.yourpath.co.nz.
Lerner, H.G. PhD (1985) The Dance of Anger. Harper amp; Row Publishers, New York.
There is a toll to pay for those who care for the dying and the bereaved.
Or can carers decide whether to pay the toll?
Kenneth Doka PhD in his article Caring for the Carer: The Lessons of Research (2006, pp 4-7) suggests that unless you identify the risks, then caring for the dying or the bereaved can impact your own physical, psychological, social and spiritual wellbeing.
Carer’s as they listen, and travel the journey of grief with the dying or the bereaved, risk vicarious grief reactions or traumatisation (McCann and Pearlman (1990), cited in Doka, 2006, p.4).
Empathy and identification are the pathways to which, when a carer sits with a client, they experience anothers grief, but awaken grief within themselves. Although all people are different, we also have “common human developmental pathways, vulnerabilities and strivings” McWilliams 2004, p.34). Identification with another, leads to deeper empathetic understanding, and a whole body felt understanding .
This risk may be increased due to the length of the carer’s relationship with a client and their family, especially with the care for the dying client. This risk is multiplied when you care for a number of clients.
Doka refers to the work of Danai Papadatou PhD (2000, cited in Doka 2006, p.5.), who has proposed a model of health professionals grieving process. This model suggests a clear distinction in the process between carer grief and other grief – that is “carers have to simultaneously oscillate between containing their grief and experiencing that grief” (Doka, 2000, p.5). If carers don’t, they cannot maintain their work or their own health.
Counselling for carers is one way to increase awareness and validation of carer’s process, allow the experience of their grief and share that grief with a supportive other, and to highlight coping strategies which can be brought into being to mitigate the risks.
If you are a carer, and would like to share your grief experience with a counsellor who specialises in grief and bereavement work, make an appointment for counselling with Bronwyn at Your Path Psychotherapy and Counselling, in her rooms in Greenlane, Auckland.
Doka, K.J. PhD. (2006) Caring for the Carer: The Lessons of Research. Grief Matters, Autumn 2006. Vol. 9:1, 4-7.
McWilliams, N. (2004) Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy, A Practitioner’s Guide. The Guildford Press, New York.
Parents and caregivers worry about what to tell the children after a parent dies.
Whether children are asking direct questions or not, they are asking questions of themselves and trying to understand. Without the aid of adults, it is common for misunderstandings and imagining circumstances worse than reality.
A child can’t often let you know what they need when they are grieving. Below is some information to consider when meeting the needs of children who are grieving:
- Children grieve too. They need for those around them to acknowledge their loss directly with them.
- To have support from adults. A child can learn a lot from the grief modelled by a parent or other adults. They learn its ok to be angry (expressed in safe ways), it’s ok to be sad and it’s ok to cry.
- Children need to be included in the grieving process of those around them. To be included in the funeral. To be included in discussions.
- An opportunity and help to understand. It is an adult’s job to start the conversation. The child will engage and ask questions over time. But adults need to provide repeated opportunities to build understanding. Use clear and concrete language, be open and honest. It’s also important to check their understanding, as words taken literally can create confusion.
- Children need to know the death was not their fault. That the parent will always love them and miss them. That there is nothing that they could have done to prevent the death. That they are still wanted.
- To openly talk about the parent who has died. A continuing bond is created by talking and recounting special memories. By not talking about them from fear that it will cause more pain is flawed thinking. Not talking openly sends the message that it’s not ok. The child will then want to protect other adults by not bringing the dead parent up when they need to.
- Have the expectation that the child should and will be affected by the death of a Parent. Grief is often shown in behaviour such as acting out, being aggressive, attention seeking, being loud or hyperactive. Being shy, withdrawn, clingy or not joining in activities. This is normal. Have an expectation that children may act differently and hold this experience for them.
- Routines can be comforting. Organised activities can also help to calm and distract children, and have time off from grieving.
Death is a normal part of the cycle of life. How a child is held through the experience of a death of a Parent will impact future losses.
If you would like to discuss your grieving process or that of a child, then consider making an appointment with a counsellor who specialises in grief and bereavement work. Make an appointment with Bronwyn at Your Path Psychotherapy and Counselling, in her rooms in Greenlane, Auckland.
Good Grief Ltd (2008) Picking up the Pieces. A Guide to Supporting Children in Grief. Good Grief Australia.
Kubler-Ross, E and Kessler, D. (2005) On Grief and Grieving. Simon and Schuster, London.
Tonkin, L. (2003) Now What? A Guide for People Living with the Death of Someone Close. John Rhind Funeral Directors, Christchurch NZ.
Grief and loss is a part of life, just as sex is.
How we grieve is different for all of us. Just as how we approach sex and what it means for us also differs.
Sex could be about comfort, physical pleasure, bodily contact, emotional intimacy or the need for connection, or a varying combination of all five.
When a partner dies, you grieve their death. But there are also secondary losses, often unacknowledged. One of which is the loss of your sex life.
The question of when to enter another sexual relationship or how to be with growing desires when they do return for you, can often provoke feelings of guilt, betrayal and selfishness. Or the drive for another sexual partner may be driven by a need to connect so you don’t feel so alone or abandoned. Or maybe you just want to feel alive again.
Whatever the reason, how you view your returning needs will impact your grief journey and how you reintegrate back into your life. It can be a time of increased anxiety and confusion.
If you would like to feel clearer about your sexual life or relationships going forward then consider making an appointment with a counsellor who specialises in grief and bereavement work. Make an appointment with Bronwyn at Your Path Psychotherapy and Counselling, in her rooms in Greenlane, Auckland.
Kubler-Ross, E and Kessler, D. (2005) On Grief and Grieving. Simon and Schuster, London.
Rando, T.A. (1993) Treatment of Complicated Mourning. Research Press, USA.
Worden, J. William. 2003. Grief Counselling and Grief Therapy, 3rd Ed, Routledge, London and New York.
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