Loss is something that we will all experience one way or another during our lives. Loss can be devastating for those who have experienced it, and loss and the grief that stems from the loss is just one reason why someone can seek help through counselling and therapy.

Today, we are talking to Rachel Cunningham, a person-centred counsellor about loss and grief and what this means from a therapeutic perspective.

There is often a misconception around what grief is Grief is, so I would like to take this opportunity to give an overview of grief and answer some frequently asked questions, firstly:-

What is Grief?

Grief is a ‘natural’ reaction to ‘loss’ and is a very personal experience. Individual experiences of grief vary and are influenced by the nature of the loss. The misconception is that grief is just associated with death, which is of course one of the things that people will grieve over, and the most recognised, but some other examples of loss, and therefore what people may grieve over include, the ending of an important relationship, loss of a job, the loss of independence through disability or illness, loss of a house, loss of financial stability, the list is endless, but the most important thing to remember is that with any ‘loss’ we will or may grieve.

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

What does grief look like to the person experiencing it?

This is a difficult question to answer because of the fact that grief is a very individual experience. You’ve probably heard the saying ‘everyone grieves in their own way and at their own pace’ That’s true. Grieving is as unique as each persons experience, and so is the appearance of grieving. While we may think that grieving is only about crying, and if someone is grieving they’re crying, conversely, that means if someone is not crying they’re not grieving, but that limits what grief is, how it’s expressed and how we can recognise it. Sometimes it can appear as anger, irritability, physical pain, bodily stress, restlessness, sleeplessness, loneliness, fear and hostility. Every loss is going to have its own story, its own tale to tell. What grief looks like now may shift in a year, two years, even 5 years down the road. It looks different ways because it changes along with you. In children it is what we would call ‘The ages and stages of grief’

Can you suffer from grief if someone close to you hasn’t died?

Unlike the previous question, this is an easy question to answer, and the answer to this is ‘yes’ This is particularly true when the person has been given a terminal diagnosis or has a degenerative illness. It is often at the point of diagnosis that we start our grieving process, this is because we start grieving for the person that we are losing as opposed to the person that we have lost. As a persons illness progresses, and that person changes along with that progression, we grieve. This sort of grief which I would describe as pre-bereavement grief, grieving for the person before the actual death of the person, is something that is not often recognised, and therefore people do not access therapy for, and not many therapists offer.

How does grief counselling work?

Grief counselling is a subset of counselling—a specific form of therapy that focuses on those who are grieving and bereaved. Much like regular counselling, grief counselling offers release from emotions through the talk therapy model employed in traditional counselling sessions. They can help you cope with specific challenges associated with grief, such as the emotional, social and physical, responses to your loss. They can also help you regain some of the cognitive losses associated with grieving, such as short-term memory loss, difficulties concentrating, and loss of orientation.

The purpose or goal of grief counselling is to help you with the following:-

  • Understanding the process of grief
  • Talking about your feelings
  • Finding ways of coping that work for you
  • Identify issues that may be hindering your progress
  • Healing from the pain
  • Accepting your loss
Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

How can I support a friend experiencing grief?

Many of us want to be there to help a friend who is experiencing a severe loss.. There is no one perfect way to respond to or to support someone you care about, but here are some things to remember:-

Grief belongs to the griever – You have a supporting role, not the central role, in your friend’s grief. So many of the suggestions, advice, and “help” given to the griever tells them they should do this differently, or otherwise feel differently than they do. Grief is a very personal experience, and it belongs entirely to the person experiencing it. This grief belongs to your friend; follow his or her lead.

It’s tempting to make statements about the past or the future when your friend’s present life holds so much pain. It is also tempting to make generalizing statements about the situation in an attempt to make them feel better. You cannot know that his or her loved one “finished their work here,” or that they are in a “better place” ‘I know how you feel’ ‘They had a good innings’ These  generalized platitudes aren’t helpful. Stick with what you do know, ‘This hurts’  ‘I love you’ ‘I’m here’

Your friend’s loss cannot be fixed or repaired or solved. The pain itself cannot be made better.  Do not say anything that tries to fix the unfixable, and you will do just fine. It is an unfathomable relief to have a friend who does not try to take the pain away.

Thank you, Rachel. If you’re looking for a grief counsellor, you can email Rachel on rachelcunningham752@gmail.com or call her on 07794 728159

You can get more information about grief at: https://www.thegoodgrieftrust.org/