Friday, May 22, 2009

Counseling and Grief Recovery

When I was in private practice I saw a lot of individuals who were grieving the loss of a loved one, whether that was a child, a spouse, a parent or a close friend. On a few occasions I saw couples where one of them had been diagnosed with a terminal condition and had less than 6 months to live. These situations were particularly traumatic for the persons involved, especially for the spouse who was not ill.

These couples, with the terminally ill partner, needed to work through feelings about their situation and the practical steps necessary to prepare for the inevitable. The terminally ill partner seemed to have an easier time with the process once they had accepted the reality of their death. When my brother-in-law was diagnosed with terminal cancer, I witnessed the same effects taking place for he and my sister. Broadly speaking, it was always the surviving partner that had the toughest time.

With counselling of any sort, the goal is to LISTEN! Not just the hear the words an individual was speaking, but to identify the Feelings behind them. When I would reflect back to the individual I always began with sounds like youre feeling " sad, angry, scared, anxious, depressed " whatever it was they were conveying. I would then ask them to check in to see if what I said was accurate. It usually was.

Then I would instruct them to pay attention to that particular feeling and tell me more about it. They would then describe their feelings in detail along with whatever physical reactions might be attached to it. Tears would begin to flow as they related the physical and emotional reactions they were experiencing. This was the essence of my counselling approach for persons in grief, no matter what the precipitating circumstances.

It was not unusual for clients to ask about Stages of Grief and/or some theory they had heard about in their research on the matter. As interesting as this might be, I would point out that anything that distracted them from their feelings was a waste of their recovery efforts. In contrast, anything that helped them focus on feelings would always be the most beneficial. After a few challenging sessions, where painful feelings were addressed and released, the client would realize that this was the path to recovery. Not only that, but learning to identify, describe and release feelings as a general practice, would have benefits far beyond their successful grief recovery.

We are programmed toward externals by our various sources of news that like to talk about charts, graphs, theories and stages. These tantalizing tidbits are geared toward boosting ratings or adding another "Top Ten Ways to Heal Grief" book to the self-help section of bookstores. A helpful grief recovery resource will focus on Internals, such as feelings and emotions, because that's always where the hurt lies. Our Heart and Feeling Center determines the quality of our life and tells us when we are hurting. By focusing inward we identify and release feelings, along with the associated pain. Writing in a journal, listening to good music, reading heart-centered poetry will put you in touch with Your Heart because that's where healing actually happens.

A well written grief recovery book can become an excellent counselling companion as long as it is designed to put you in touch with your feelings. A fully narrated grief resource can take you even further. Since the feelings associated with grief and bereavement are so intense, youre practically there. Just a little push and the guidance counselling resource book and youre on your way. For most of us, all we need is Permission to Feel. Our heart and soul will take it from there because we have engaged our body and feeling natures innate healing capability.

With any recovery process there can be many distractions along the way. In the case of grief recovery these can come in the form of stages, charts and graphs that are intellectually interesting but have no value in terms of your grief recovery. Most religions, even though well-intentioned, fall short on this matter as well. A good grief resource, counselor or support group can help you focus on the heart of the matter which is your feeling nature. Externals, even when interesting, can detract you from the task at hand - healing your broken heart.

You now have what you need to heal your grief. You will recover from this tragedy and great loss. You will become intimately acquainted with your Heart and Feeling Centre. You will come to a point where you can think about your loved one and smile. Because when the hurt is finally healed, what remains with you is the love you carry in your heart, and that is forever.

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