Sunday, 11 January 2015

Bereavement - a Psychotherapist's Perspective.

Now you might find this statement rather bizarre but as a Therapist I actually find working with grief as the result of death one of the most rewarding parts of my vocation. Let me begin to explain. When I decided to become a Therapist it was set against a number of life experiences; in particular the death of my mother when I was just 18 and at a natural crossroads in my life. The circumstances of that death completely altered my life’s path; my views of the world around me, my relationships with other people and having a detrimental effect on my mental health causing bouts of depression in my early 20’s. When I reflect back on that period in my life, there seemed to be very few people close to me offering that ‘listening ear’ and that was just what I needed a ‘listening ear’. I needed to rage, to wonder and be angry, to feel supported and above all be told that my views and thoughts were valid and human, no matter how many times I repeated those same feelings.

Death and grief are all integral to being human but how often do we draw away from discussing the process with one another?  Each death is different and each of us reacts to the deaths we experience on an individual basis. No matter how you anticipate the way you may feel and behave on the death of someone or something you care about, almost always the actual event and your reaction is not what you may have anticipated.  This is tricky to illustrate; but imagine the death of your husband or wife of the last 50 years which you may have thought devastating, but actually although you are extremely sad you seem to be coping and adjusting.  Perhaps that spouse had been extremely ill and in pain over a long period and some small part of you rejoices that they are released.  However on top of this your cat or dog has just been killed in a car accident and although other people may see this as trivial, you are devastated and feel you can’t carry on, becoming deeply depressed. These then are two very different deaths; one expected one sudden, the trauma compounded, where you can cope with the first maybe the second brings up unexpected feelings e.g. loneliness, loss of purpose.  The difficulty can then be sometimes being able to express this grief openly, you may feel other people (even those closest to you) don’t want to listen or even understand or simply just don’t have the time.

This is where a good Therapist can step in providing complete non- judgmental support, someone who recognizes that the nature of grief is based upon many interweaving factors, processes, themes and emotions.  As a Therapist myself I feel privileged to have shared with my client’s important moments of intense emotion working in an intense therapeutic atmosphere.  There are moments of anger, guilt, anguish, flashes of insight and realization as well as the recognition of love, thankfulness, joy and yes we do also share laughter. This for me constitutes true congruence with a client; knowing the moment, being with, knowing exactly what to say at the right point and recognizing important insights, sharing their journey. 

Having now, in my middle years experienced a number of deaths myself both family and friends and indeed my own father died suddenly just recently, I always find the process of grief a time when people experience in its purest form what it is to be human. Each death strangely perhaps can help us to grow, find new things in life but also learn to appreciate and value with new eyes, life.  It is a time of re- evaluation. These reasons and much more are why I find working with death so rewarding as a Therapist.

If you would like to contribute to the discussion I would love to hear from you.

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