Grief Work In Counseling

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Dr. Purushothaman
October 18, 2013

Grief work is often an important aspect of counseling.

I have worked with many perpetrators of domestic violence (mostly male) who have significant amounts of loss that have never been grieved; fathers who have lost sons, sons who have lost fathers to work, booze, divorce, drugs, veterans dealing with survivors guilt, husbands who have lost families to divorce and on and on.

Most men get no training in grieving and therefore do it very poorly. Terrance Real in his best seller "I Don't Want to Talk About It" speaks to the cost of no or poor grieving for men and those of us around men.

There are any number of ways to approach grief work.

In my domestic violence groups I teach the Kubler-Ross model and its stages so that clients get the sense that there is a rhyme and reason to grief, a beginning and an end to what might seem to be a rather chaotic experience, and that healing, trust, and even hope are possible subsequent to the grief work.

Most importantly I teach that grief not done casts a pall over the future of trust, because of the abandonment fears.

For example, many men enter into a relationship with a naive sense of what will happen, expecting a Prince Charming and Cinderella experience. If Cinderella leaves them, and the grief work is not done about both the loss of the Prince Charming/Cinderella ideal and the actual woman, then men will be very unlikely to offer trust in a relationship down the road.

A lack of trust means little closeness.

I make it very safe in the group for men to touch their pain, and to experience sadness and even an upwelling of tears, just so they get the experience that grief can be a part of an ongoing productive life.

Grief does not have to take over and consume them, which is a fear for some.

I want them to learn to make room in their lives for attending to grief, like they schedule church or a workout or time with the kids, and that the ultimate payoff for them is the ability to engage in deep meaningful relationships with others with the knowledge that any relationship or life can and does end, and there will be pain at the end, and the risk of that pain is very much worth the payoffs from engaged and deep relationship.

I illustrate that with a sense of how I attend to my own grief, by making a mental visit to the graves of my departed mother, father, and brother during my regular prayer time, to remember then and to honor my memory of them.

When I visit Kansas, where they are all buried, I make it a point to go to the graves, and spend time grieving. Simply by acknowledging the sorrow I feel about loosing them, and my father died in 1971, my mom in 1976, makes it easier for me to remember what is going on with my son as he grows up and to make sure he gets blessed frequently.

Many men will speak of similar behaviors.

And in therapy groups, it is very possible to create a simple funeral ceremony with a ritual burial of a symbol of the loss so that the participant creating the funeral for him or herself can feel the depth of the pain and clear it with tears, or artwork, or anger.

Frequently, an individual participant will be able to move through all the stages of the Kubler-Ross model, including anger at the deceased, themselves, and even the Higher Power for allowing it, and then move into the tears for a very effective cathart.

Upon completion of that, there is often a strong feeling of relief, and an opportunity to to do artwork or journaling to concretize the experience.

The end result of that kind of grief work is that clients have an experience of how to do the an intense experience of grief, and can then manage subsequent experiences, moving them to a healing conclusion.

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