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.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Real Stages of Grief Recovery

The stages of Death and Dying evolved by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross are often mis-identified as The Stages of Grief Recovery. In her schema, she came up with 1) denial, 2) anger, 3) bargaining, 4) depression and 5) acceptance as reactions to a diagnosis of terminal illness. Her stages only make sense when considered against that backdrop. As such, this configuration has nothing to do with the stages of grief recovery.

Looking back over my 25 years of therapeutic experience dealing with hundreds of individuals and families going through grief and loss and a review of the currently available data I have come up with 4 stages of Grief Recovery. Kubler-Ross' stages do not fit this paradigm even though they are often mistaken as the quintessential guideline. For those of you seeking grief recovery the following stages are what you can expect.

1) Numbness and Shock: - We hear the news about the death of a loved one and our mind goes into shock. The news is too unbelievable, too hard to digest in one sitting. Numbness enters the picture because our mind is still reeling from the news as our body goes into a state of emotional numbness. We try desperately to process this terrible news. Simple tasks now feel overwhelming. Feelings of disorientation and displacement are common. Some have described this as a dreamlike state where you feel disconnected from events and people around you. Funeral arrangements and other issues are accomplished mechanically.

Stage 2 - Disintegration and Disorientation: The initial shock of losing a loved one begins to settle down and we are now faced with the deeper feelings of grief and bereavement. Emotional disintegration, which feels like "falling apart" enters the picture as the reality of the loss hits us hard. Physical reactions such as sleeplessness and loss of appetite are not uncommon and need to be taken up with your family doctor. On the emotional side, feelings of confusion, anxiety, anger and depression may now begin to surface. These deeper reactions are your body and mind's way of trying to release stress. Grief recovery means working through these reactions over time.

Stage 3) Bereavement and Grief Recovery - Once you are past the shock and have started to come out of disorganization, bereavement and grief recovery can begin in earnest. You can now make full use of your grief recovery resources including books, audio books, healing music and grief counseling. These days, you can be part of an online support group where sharing is the by-word and all persons there are eager and ready to listen and help each other recover. You are not alone, unless you choose to be. And you are not a victim, unless you choose that as well!

Stage 4 - Coming Back Together / Reintegration - You've been following an action plan laid out in your favored grief resources. A good book, counselor or support group has provided a set of guidelines to follow and you realize this journey of recovery is manageable. Books, audio resources, counseling and support groups provided the framework to recovery you've been looking for. Your action steps bear fruit. You notice a little less emotional tenderness with each passing day and more of your old self returning. Your life has changed. You've lost a valued loved one. The pain at times felt unbearable. But you are past that now and your grief recovery is near the end.

These are the stages of grief recovery as I have come to know them after 25 years of helping hundreds of individuals, couples and families come to terms with Murder Grief, Suicide Grief, Relationship Grief, Loss of a Parent, Loss of a Child and Loss of a Spouse. I have also dealt with many losses in my own life including a best friend, mother, favorite brother-in-law, special uncle and other family members and acquaintances.

For a successful grief recovery I recommend the following: 1) Acquire a good reading and/or audio book resource that you can access whenever you want and need to, something that will provide support and guidance as you work your way through the necessary grief recovery action steps. 2) Check out any support groups in your area. This will help eliminate the feeling that you are alone and will normalize your recovery experience.

3) Sometimes local groups are not available. Not to worry because online Grief Support Networks are plentiful. Just do a search for "Grief Support Online" and numerous choices will be available to you. Again, the main benefit is community and a sense of belonging. There is no need to go through grief alone or suffer for an extended period of time. Share your story with others and listen to theirs. This helps you both. 4) If necessary see a therapist. Some of your early experiences may be too overwhelming or confusing. See an expert. He or she will help you get on track with a tailor made grief recovery program.