After losing relatives or loved ones to death, all individuals go through a grief and bereavement process. It’s a deeply personal, individual experience, and above all else, grief counselling recognizes the unique nature of recovering from a loss.
Grief has a singular nature but also includes common characteristics. For example, some individuals go through a period of numbness, or they feel anger or sadness. Many have intense crying spells. Appetite can be affected, either with overeating or under eating, and individuals struggle to sleep
But what makes the grief process unique is how individuals cope with these emotions and behaviours. For instance, some individuals will cry a lot, while others a little or not at all. Simply because someone is not crying does not mean that he or she isn’t grieving, or not able to cope with the grief. While crying is a healthy coping pattern for some, it’s not for others. And for some, constant crying becomes problematic.
However, if individuals want to cry but cannot – a sign of possible coping problems – grief counselling helps. Also, individuals that feel as if grief has overtaken their life’s, preventing them from performing well at work or completing their normal, everyday tasks and obligations, grief counselling provides support and guidance.
And those who are turning to unhealthy behaviours such as drugs or alcohol, or feeling so depressed that they can’t get started in the morning, or having thoughts of suicide, grief counselling becomes a necessity.
People dealing with grief from the loss of a loved one find many ways to cope. Psychologists suggest expressing emotions of grief in order to deal with the overwhelming feelings of sadness, isolation, loneliness, anger, and disappointment. Mourners express these feelings through talking, letter writing, prayer, blogging, and oftentimes through poetry. Many hospitals and hospices offer poetry therapy groups. And it can be a regular part of both group and private grief counselling.
A counsellor will tailor grief counselling to the individual needs of each client. A number of factors determine the extent of grief, such as the relationship of the individual to the deceased, the amount of time the individual had to prepare for the death, and the personality and background of the individual.
Some individuals, for example, are unable to find ways to express their grief. The counselling session in this case might revolve around having the individual journal, or even write a letter to the deceased.
If the inability to find expression includes a feeling of meaninglessness, counselling can encourage rituals, rituals that provide a link to the deceased. These rituals give the individual the sense that the person is not forgotten, and is, in a symbolic way, still with the individual.
Rituals are also used as commemorations, such as bringing flowers to a graveside, or attending a Veterans event, or religious service. Both rituals and commemorations bring back meaning to those who are questioning life’s purpose.
For individuals experiencing numbness or shock concerning the death, their everyday functioning can be seriously impaired. Counselling will focus on behavioural techniques to help the individual process the death. This often involves patient, active listening on the part of the counsellor, reframing statements and concerns – getting the individual to open up and share their feelings in a safe and compassionate environment.
An important component of grief counselling is helping individuals recognize that whatever they’re feeling or not feeling is acceptable. Validation for those in grief is reassuring because grief can leave individuals feeling alone and overwhelmed.
Counselling also helps individuals organize their daily activities, including work and family responsibilities, prioritizing tasks so that individuals begin to regain a sense of routine and purpose in their life’s.
If the behaviours following a death become especially problematic, resulting in eating disorders, alcohol or drug abuse, or suicidal tendencies, a referral to other mental health specialists, support groups, and doctors is often necessary.
Understanding grieving styles
Once individuals begin to understand how to process their grief, either through expression or taking concrete actions – or both – grief counselling helps prepare individuals for living without the loved one.
It was once thought that grieving occurred in a linear or step-by-step process. Recent research has disproved this belief, pointing instead to a lifetime of managing grief. Counselling helps that individuals don’t simply get over a loss but learn how to live with the loss. In death, nearly all areas of survivors’ life’s go through transitions, and learning how to effectively adapt to those transitions often requires suggestions and strategies from a counsellor.
Grief counselling teaches individuals how to move on with life, accepting and coping with loss while demonstrating the importance of rituals and remembrances that maintain memories of those they have lost.