Grief Counseling and You
By Dr. Maurice Turmel
Back in my practice days I saw many individuals who were suffering the effects of grief and loss after having lost a close loved one. This could include a friend, spouse, child, partner, parent or other relative who had passed on suddenly due to illness or accident. Occasionally I was presented with a couple where one of them had recently received a terminal illness diagnosis and only had months to live. All of these situations were particularly traumatic in their own way.
The case of these latter couples was really no different than any case of grief and loss. In essence, both partners had to deal with their feelings. Once the terminally ill partner accepted the inevitability of their death, they seemed to have an easier time addressing this necessity. I saw this happen in my own family when my brother-in-law was diagnosed with terminal cancer a few years back. He has since passed away. It was my sister who suffered the most. She had to go on and manage life for her and their daughter by herself. In my experience, the surviving partner always had the most difficult time.
The goal of counseling is always to listen and reflect back to the client what they are expressing at a feeling level. With experience, identifying the feelings behind the words became second nature to me and my reflections were mostly accurate. I would take what the client said and translate it into something like: "So what you're saying is that you feel scared, disorganized, confused, angry and perhaps sad all at the same time?" Then I would ask them to check "inside" to see if that was accurate. It usually was and thus began the exploration of their feelings.
As the client revealed a particular feeling, or set of feelings, I would instruct them to focus and describe them in more detail. That required that they pay closer attention to the feeling and address all its aspects including any physical reactions. More often than not, tears would begin to flow as the feeling was expressed and then released. The process of describing feelings in detail helps release their associated pain. This became the essence of my approach to grief recovery counseling. I called this stage "priming the pump."
Sometimes grieving individuals would want to know about Stages and other matters they had heard about in relation to grief, and I would just steer them back to their feelings. Once they realized that this was more important, it became easier for them to go there themselves and accept that sharing, feeling and crying were in their best interest. After a few sessions of working with their feelings the process became more acceptable. Many of these individuals would later report that keeping in touch with their feelings had many advantages and helped them with other aspects of their life.
Externals, such as stages, theories, charts and graphs can help illustrate important points about a particular experience or grief event. These make for good news reporting and the plethora of self-help books available today. Grief recovery resources and counseling focus on Internals such as emotions, feelings and associated physical reactions. They focus on our Heart and Feeling center because that is where we experience the quality of our life and the pain of a major loss. Once an individual becomes engaged in the process of "looking in" they have a new tool with which to manage their life. Journaling, writing letters to the deceased, listening to soothing music and reading grief related poetry will put you in touch with Your Heart, and that's where healing takes place.
Grief recovery counseling can come in the form of an experienced therapist or a well crafted book resource that helps you focus on feelings. A fully narrated resource comes closest to the actual consulting room experience. Losing a loved one generates powerful feelings of bereavement and grief. A feeling approach to grief recovery takes advantage of this because those feelings are so close to the surface. For some, just a little push and some well focused guidance may be all an individual needs to get off on the right foot. We all need Permission to Feel, especially when dealing with grief and loss. Our heart and soul are ready to take us there and help us engage our innate healing capacity.
Applying externals such as charts, graphs and catch phrases like "time heals all" to an internal experience such as bereavement and grief is a waste of time. Being well informed can be useful, but it will not mend your broken heart. Externals can actually act as a distraction to the necessary grief recovery counseling process. A well written grief recovery resource can act as a personal counselor in the case of losing a loved one and help you focus on that all important feeling dimension. Don't waste your time with externals. Get to the Heart of the matter.
Grief recovery counseling is fairly straightforward once you understand the process. Applying externals to an internal problem is futile. Talking about your pain is not the same as experiencing it which is what a good counselor and grief recovery resource would have you do. You now know that feelings are the key to your recovery. Feeling your bereavement and grief may be painful at times but that difficulty will be short-lived. Applying tools that focus on feelings and help release them will move your healing along. What you will be left with is the love you have for that deceased loved one, and that's forever.
Dr. Maurice Turmel is a veteran therapist with 25 years experience, who has helped countless individuals undergoing Grief Recovery Counseling. His latest book, How to Cope with Grief and Loss, is a unique recovery resource that reproduces the Grief Recovery Counseling experience.