Counsellors are often called on to support a client who is grieving due to loss and there are many ways to do this. Below are some reflections on supporting grieving clients.
Loss can have an enormous impact and yet it is a constant in daily life. Grief is a natural response to loss and is an important process to enable a person to adjust to life after the loss. Even so, it is easier said than done and often circumstances surrounding the loss can impact a person’s ability to cope.
Asking for help
Seeing a counsellor in times of grief can support the process of adjustment. Exploring the meaning of the loss with a counselling professional may enable a strengths based approach. In order to do this effectively a counsellor may utilise their knowledge, experience and alongside the client undertake a situational analysis in order to support the client to cope.
A focus on relationship losses
When the situation is the loss of a significant relationship, grieving is unlikely to be the same for the bereaved person, the separated person or the person betrayed or rejected. There may also be barriers to grieving. For example do health, travel, financial or relationship barriers prevent a person from attending end of life or other events where they might join with and support others who are also grieving.
Sometimes sitting with the client as they silently cry or mourn and express their deepest feelings without fear of the impact on others can be a poignant expression of person centred counselling. Identifying and validating the fabric of emotions may enable a client to understand and accept intense through often conflicting emotions. Many people can feel sad, glad and relieved if they are bereaved due to illness for example. Survivor guilt and a sense of pointlessness in their own life especially if they have been a significant carer can also surprise people after the bereavement and expressing and managing this reality is an important adjustment to life after loss.
Counsellors can support the client to identify their own coping resources, what they need and who can assist them. Taking a goal oriented or solution focused approach has its place and time and a consideration of other people and professionals involved can be a useful discussion with the client. Sometimes the loss can reveal significant dilemmas to be worked through and counsellor discretion involves reflection and the use of approaches that enable a client to grieve and adjust. For example, a client who uses substances as a coping mechanism may now have recognised an unhelpful problem they also need to address. This can be explored in therapy as a matter of urgency or once other aspects of the loss have been finalised.
As Mohammed Ali famously said,
‘It isn’t the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out; it’s the pebble in your shoe.’
Counselling may not change the mountains the client must climb in response to loss, however it can enable a safe and confidential time for mourning, self expression, greater awareness of situational impacts, coping resources, planning and goal setting.
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