I always feel I should apologize for my profession when I hear how badly grieving people are treated by therapists and other health providers. You just get up enough courage (and energy) to talk to someone about how hard this is, and you end up educating them about the reality of grief.
The problem is, counselors and other health providers aren’t taught about grief. Sure, they’re trained to support people in pain, but grief is an entirely different animal. Because licensing requirements are so extensive, there isn’t time in a standard counseling graduate program to spend more than an hour or so on grief itself. When grief is talked about, it’s usually within the five stages of grief model – and we all know those stages are utterly useless inside grief.
This means that many clinicians have no idea how to come to the kind of grief you’re living.
If you’ve tried to find support inside your grief, only to discover poor skills, insensitivity, or just utter cluelessness, you’re not alone. In my own early days, the therapists I spoke with were among the least skilled people when it came to grief. Some of them were perfectly good as clinicians, just – my grief left them unsettled and tongue-tied. Some clinicians suggested the power of positive thinking. Others encouraged me to look to the future, when life would be better. Encouragement to look towards the future only ignored the pain I was in right then.
None of these approaches are useful inside grief, especially not in the early days.
In the next few weeks, I’l be talking about more about what actually helps inside grief, and why so many people, both professionals and regular folks, are so clumsy with your pain. Support inside grief like yours is a big topic.
I’m always interested in hearing the good, the bad, and the ugly. It helps me know how best to support you, and helps me re-educate other professionals on the realities of grief. How has your experience been with counselors and other professional support? Leave a comment and let me know.
———- Forwarded message ———-
Date: Sunday, October 4, 2015
Subject: when professionals can’t help.
Honestly it takes one to know one may apply here. For even those dear friends that have stayed the distance of 9 mos and the repetition of my screaming are somehow clueless. But they are, so am I and you and etc. lonely personal journey they say. I can see that but what you are doing is changing culture because we are all in this together. Death is ugly and cruel and I believe no matter how well prepared we may think we are for death. (You know )we are not at all and there is no way , no lesson plan, stages of grief.
Testimonials , blogs all help me know there are those that survive 4 years away.
Taking energy to go to group and then talk is tough. I don’t hav it for that. I hav to conserve, for work, my dog . I’d rather not talk about it than want to talk about it. As I feel with living versus dying. I would rather die than live. Not suicidal. Deep longing to see my son again . Sooner than later please
Kate Nye says
My heart cries for you. I have not lost child but I have lost a spouse when I was 25 with two infants, no job, no money, no family, & a church that did not help me at all. Everyone blamed me for my misfortune. I read a book I’d like to suggest that had changed my life, called “dying to be me.” The author had a near death experience she woke and was healed from 4 years of terminal cancer. I personally met her in January and she after 9 years is still totally free of cancer. For me more impressive is what she brought back from her other side experience. She, physically healed also brought back a message of love and joy and peace. She met her deceased father and best friend both having passed from cancer. In the message she brought back as I read her message I applied to my life, I now know that my loved ones who have passed are always with me physically supporting me in my present day here. I wish you peace and joy as your son’s joy in and FOR YOU is felt within your entire Being. I can feel him … he is everywhere… shouting in abundant Joy HIS Love, HIS THANKSGIVING for HIS MOM…. YOU!!!! He cherishes you every moment…. every single one. All he is, FEELS , thinks, breathes and has is LOVE, joyful full alive abundant LOVE. He is FREE.
You, Mom, are LOVED. <3
Your words are blessings that I know God and angels bring.
You , after your loss and cycle of crap are reaching out to me. I need to hear that is happy and safe and loved. Because I cannot give him that any longer. He no longer is here for me to care for.
Thank you for reaching out to me. Today was not light so this gave me some hope.
Donna Gibson says
I believe we often shy away from another’s grief because it is uncomfortable for us and so we try and offer something concrete in an attempt to alleviate our own discomfort. For someone who is grieving, having the space to just ‘be’ can be enormously helpful because grieving is exhausting and feeling as though one has to pretend to be more OK than one feels just adds to that exhaustion and is alienating. Grieving cannot be rushed and it takes courage to come alongside someone and really hear their pain. Witnessing and validating another’s suffering is often just what is needed.
I feel your thoughts speak to me and am interested in learning more. The best description of grief I’ve found is that illustration where the stages of grief are written in the shape of a U and the path between them are all over the place. I sometimes feel I am going to explode with emotion that no one would wish to see and during those times I retreat. Mental Health professionals have good intentions in one hour segments. I have heard of a grief weekend that sounds safe yet I am afraid to open up that much. I would like to have a better handle on the ebb and flow of my life.
i was so so angry 18 months after my husband died, i felt abandoned by everyone just when I needed them most, when i was at my lowest, when I had listened to their platitudes and encouragement and lies for all this time only to be in the darkest depths of despair and depression, and find they were all gone. I was alone with all their empty lies and promises that it would get better with time. I found my way to a grief group at this time and a old fiend was facilitating it. In group he told me that my anguish and my “industrial strength” pain and grief was so palpable and tremendous, that it left him with such profound sorrow in his heart for me that he was speechless. I broke, my angry flooded out of me like the ocean and I was so grateful for his brutal helpless honesty in just seeing me and really getting my pain. It was what I and so many others need. To be really heard and understood and stand helpless in it with us.
I work in the mental health field and encounter a lot of people who are bereaved or experiencing grief. I also ask walking this path after losing my mom 16 years ago and my almost 2 year old son to drowning 11 years ago. I too heard all the platitudes and “stages” and sought out more. More understanding, more insight, just more. Being a voracious reader I found much literatures that provided me with so much more; more validation, more peace, just more; more then any professional every gave me. Perhaps the one thing that really the me out was receiving a diagnosis of “complicated grief.” What? Really???? Losing a child is appt the most complicated loss a person can carry, because every day there is a part of you that it’s missing from you. I have found that “the professionals” are not the people you must turn to, as validation and the ability to express your grief without judgement can only be discovered with those carrying the same. I share with others my experiences in loss and find that reciprocity is healing for the soul, even if that healing takes me through my raw spaces and memories. Thank you for sharing your insights!
My husband died at 50 after a 4 month battle with kidney cancer. The best thing I ever did was see a therapist who did guided imagery with me.
She encouraged me to visualize myself and then said “go to her”. I said “oh I can’t she is very small and made of plastic”. She encouraged me to keep trying and eventually I became real and I got to myself. The therapist said ” hold your arms out to her and see what she does.” I did and I fell into my own arms and held myself and cried until my whole head was drenched. She told me I had to do this at least once a day in the early going. I had to nurture my grief and be with it. It helped me immeasurably.
I work in the mental health field too. I went to a therapist within the 1st month of my husband’s death. She told how great I was doing because I was there, and dressed, and walking and talking. Really?? After 3 times of hearing how great I was I quit seeing her. I waited about 3 months and found another male therapist. It is better but still lots missing. I find more helpful things on this site and other sites as well as reading books. I would like to meet a therapist that has experienced death of a spouse or child–like you Magen. Thanks
I agree that the five stages of grief are complete hooey. Grief doesn’t have a linear graph-able pattern. It comes in waves, circles around, hits rock bottom more than once and regularly does the cha-cha…two steps forward and 3 steps backwards and a bunch of loop de loops thrown in for good measure.
In the spring of 2011, my mother began having seizures and my best friend was told there was a tumor in her stomach. By the middle of summer, mom was diagnosed with inoperable, terminal brain cancer and my best friend was dead. I became my mother’s primary caregiver while my friend died 3000 miles away. My mom died late in the winter of 2013.
In the spring of 2015, I seized an opportunity to get away from it all with hopes of healing the grief that continued to weigh heavily on me. Two weeks into my 4 month “healing retreat”, I received news that my father had been diagnosed with terminal cancer! My healing retreat turned into an ocean of despair and I couldn’t go home because I had signed a contract. When I got news of yet another friend’s passing that same July, I could barely “feel” the loss. I was drowning in it. I made it home a couple of months before dad died and after he did, the grief choked me, froze me and incapacitated me. It was as though all the grief I had tried to overcome for two years came flooding back to me like a tsunami.
As he was dying, I met a professional that I could work with. Therapy included lots of modalities and hoards of tears. It was messy and cathartic, until it wasn’t. I continue to work with her and am very grateful for our sessions. She isn’t a grief counselor per say, but she has an intuitive way of knowing exactly what modality will work for each session. For awhile there, I truly did want to die, though I never considered suicide. For now, I want to live and I am learning to hold the grief without letting it weigh me down and overwhelm me.
I realized that my grief has become a new dimension of me and so decided to hold space in my fragile heart for those I lost and if I still need to cry, like a baby, that is okay too. I cherish the memories, talk to them out loud whenever I feel like it and I miss and love them.
I don’t know if there will ever come a day when I am completely grief free.
Braden Bills says
I’ve been having a hard time dealing with grief, and I’m not sure what to do about it.It makes sense that I would want to ensure that I get the proper treatment for this! I’ll be sure to find a professional to talk to about this stuff. They would know the right things to say.
Jarom Linton says
I really like that you touched on how grief and emotional pain are completely different. My cousin is having some issues with her mental health right now and she needs help. We need to find a counselor that is trained to handle issues with grief so that it’s all taken care of properly.