Psychotherapy and Counselling for Bereavement in Edinburgh, London and Online
What is bereavement and grief counselling?
Loss is an inevitable part of life, there is no human that is immune to loss and death. Loss can take many forms, such as the death of a beloved one, the loss of an unborn child (miscarriage), the loss of an animal, a relationship, a job, good health, community in cases of relocation or war or, for some people, the loss of natural habitat such as forests.
People can have quite different experiences when they lose someone or something, and it can often be difficult to know what is ‘normal’ or to understand how to respond to loss and death. Despite the fact that how you respond to loss is a very individual experience, there are some common ways that loss affects people.
Shock is often a common response, in particular in the first hours or days after the loss or death of a loved one, as the organism might not know how to respond and one’s energy might be directed to dealing with the practicalities of the death or loss. For some other people, the shock can make them become almost physically immobilised or psychologically ‘paralysed’. One might feel numb, panicky, grief-stricken and unable to stop crying, or unable to cry; emotions can be absent or very strong and intense, and they can change, often quite suddenly or unexpectedly.
Bereavement and Grief Symptoms
After the initial shock subsides, it is common for people to experience a mixture of feelings and thoughts, including:
• Sadness and low mood;
• Loneliness and an intense sense of loss and of missing the person or the situation that has been lost;
• Anger towards the world because it seems ‘indifferent’ to your loss, particularly if you feel ‘pushed’ to return to work or your ‘normal life’. It is also not uncommon for some people to feel even anger towards the person that they have lost and to have thoughts such as ‘How dare you leave me on my own?’
• Relief that your loved one’s suffering is over, which is not uncommon following a painful or prolonged illness, particularly if you were responsible for caring for the deceased person, or where they have suffered abuse. Or relief in cases where the relationship with the deceased person was difficult or painful.
• Guilt is also a common emotion following loss, in particular, if was not possible to see or be with the person during their last hours, or if there is somehow a feeling of responsible in some way for the death. Guilt is also common when there is a sense of relief over someone’s death;
• A feeling of being overwhelmed, particularly as you may find there are many things that you need to take care of – both in the short and long-term – that you have no experience with. You may also feel overwhelmed by pressure to respond to support offered by friends and family even though you have no desire to connect with anyone at this stage;
• Concern, worry and fear about the future;
• Anxiety and panic, as the death of a beloved one, in particular a partner or parent, may bring one closer to a sense of your own mortality.
Grief is the organisms natural healing response to loss and any, or all, of the above experiences can signify that a person is grieving. A person that grieves is not mentally ill and it is unfortunate that in our time grief has been pathologised and often medicalised with many mental health professionals even prescribing antidepressants in order to ‘treat’ grief. As sadness is one of the most common feelings of grief, it can be hard to distinguish between grief and depression. They share many of the same characteristics, but there are important differences between the two. People who are grieving find their feelings of loss and sadness come and go, but they are still able to function in their daily lives and retain a hopeful stance about the future. In contrast, people who are experiencing depressive symptoms have constant feelings of sadness, are unable to feel enjoyment in their everyday life and find it difficult to be positive about the future.
The grieving process, when it is not interrupted, and it is allowed to follow its natural course, allows most people to recover naturally from their loss and to start living their lives again, although this process can take several weeks or even months. However, some people can find themselves ‘stuck’ in their grief and bereavement, and may find it impossible to move on with their lives. It is only at this stage, when despite the natural process of grieving grief remains complicated and continues to be unprocessed, that one might have to seek help.
How I help you overcome grief and bereavement
The first step in our work together to help you in the process of overcoming your grief will be to make a thorough assessment in order to gain more insight into your grieving process and find out how or where this process has been interrupted. Following this, we will use various methods and techniques in order to facilitate both emotional and cognitive grieving process. During this process, it is important for you to know that I will be by your side supporting you in a warm, empathic, accepting and caring manner, so that you will feel able to process at times painful feelings and experiences. Another important element to note, is that you will be allowed to process and overcome your grief at your own pace, without feeling rushed, as rushing the process can further complicate and interrupt the natural healing process of grief.
The model that I use in order to help you to process and overcome your grief is based on research undertaken by Professor William Worden, an experienced psychologist who has written extensively on the subject of how grief is experienced and processed. Throughout the years, I have successfully used this model with my clients, confirming the effectiveness of this framework as a guide for assisting our therapeutic work into grief and bereavement. The model brakes the grieving process into four main ‘flexible phases’ of grieving, which can be addressed individually or at the same time.
The first phase is to accept the reality of the loss:
After a loss or someone’s death, many people have a sense that it has not happened. This is an understandable ‘initial’ reaction to the shock of death and loss, as it can protect the ‘self’ from collapsing. However, if this protection continues for a long time, it turns into denial of reality as it is, which unfortunately perpetuates the grief. Our task will be to support you in acknowledging and realising (both intellectually and emotionally) that the loved one is dead and will not return, or in cases of loss, that the loss is permanent. In this process, we will also consider the philosophical and spiritual dimensions of death and loss, which often need to be understood within the wider experience of a finite life. The notion of impermanence (that nothing and nobody lasts forever) may also be a helpful avenue to explore during this phase. At times it may also be appropriate to perform small rituals, that may help you with coming to terms with your loss and which may help to signify the reality of the death.
The second phase is to process the pain and grief:
Loss and death can produce intense feelings of pain and it is understandable that at times you may try to avoid the intense pain of losing a loved one and there are no shortages of opportunities to distract and numb ourselves in today’s frenetic society. However, we will work together so you can start processing the pain of loss and grief within a supportive and validating environment.
The third phase is to adjust to a world without the deceased:
Loss and death change you both internally (through your emotions and thoughts) and also externally, as you might be required to make adjustments and change your way of living on a tangible level in your everyday life. You might find yourself suddenly entirely on your own, feeling alone, or you might find you have to take on the role of both 'mum’ and ‘dad’ and find yourself responsible for activities that you have never done before. You may also have a sense that the future has fundamentally changed or, at times, that there is no future at all. The adjustment is likely to be more than an emotional one, as loss can also bring about challenges on a very practical level, such as financial difficulties.
During this phase, we will fundamentally try to help you to build a new story, a new narrative about your life from this point forward. This means that you may also come to realise that the loss is also an opportunity for change and for taking a new direction in life that could renew your enthusiasm for life and rejuvenate you both psychological and physically.
The fourth and last phase of our work will be to help you find an enduring connection with the deceased in the midst of embarking on a new life:
In this period, we will consider ways that you can stay emotionally connected with the deceased without this connection preventing you from moving on with your own life. This phase is not about forgetting your loved one or lost relationship or other loss. It will be rather about finding yourself reconnecting and enjoying your life while remembering the positive memories, thoughts and feeling of your loved one.
If you feel that your bereavement and grief has lasted for a very long time and that it has been negatively affecting your life, please do get in touch so we can work together to help alleviate this suffering and help you to build a new life. I offer bereavement counselling and psychotherapy in Edinburgh and online.
I look forward to helping you heal and flourish.