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The death of a loved one can result in us experiencing feelings we haven’t felt before. Here, Sue Carswell a trained counsellor, supervisor and lecturer, explains how bereavement counselling may help:
Grief is like tossing a pebble in a stream
Sue was formerly Head of Counselling and a member of the Senior Management Team at Hospice In The Weald. She now runs a private counselling practice in Crowborough, where she lives, working with clients (both adult and children) on a variety of issues, including bereavement, life-limiting illness, self-esteem, eating disorders, domestic abuse, relationships, behavioural issues and self-image. Sue also lectures and runs a range of workshops on many aspects of emotional wellbeing. In addition, since 2014, Sue has been working as an independent funeral Civil Celebrant, conducting Celebrations Of Life and Thanksgiving Services.
Sue has been actively involved with the Tester and Jones Bereavement Support Group since it was established in 2008.
What is bereavement counselling and how can it help?
Bereavement is about coping with loss and change, and we all cope differently. What is generally accepted is that, in grief, we need to accept that the loss is real, we need to experience the pain of that loss, we have to find ways of adjusting to that loss and, finally, we need to start rebuilding a life with the experience of that loss; the energy that has been put into grief moves slowly in to new things.
Also, people discover that grief is not linear – they expect to feel sad for a while, but that it lessens. However, when they then start feeling those emotions again, they are fearful that they are doing something wrong. Having someone who can explain the process of grief can be a great comfort. With counselling, they learn that grief is more like tossing a pebble in a stream – it causes many ripples and these can last a very long time.
Clients tell me most often that it is the relief that the feelings they are experiencing are normal and they are not ‘going mad’. They appreciate having somebody to talk to who is not trying to make it better, or say ‘it’s time to move on’ ‘you’ll get over it’, but accepts it is how they are really feeling.
Often with grief, our emotions feel out of control – we may be normally quite placid, but suddenly discover rages we never believed we could feel. Anxiety and helplessness are also very common and some people feel guilty, particularly if they feel happy. Being able to talk through these emotions with a counsellor can be really beneficial.
Are there particular worries that people seeking bereavement counselling come to you about?
Most common worries are the fear that they are not coping well and they should be coping better. They may feel that they are a burden to family and friends; people often don’t realise that grief affects us all in many different ways, from changes in sleep and eating patterns, how they cope with relationships, lack of concentration and discovering things they could do easily before bereavement are suddenly impossible (fear of driving, being in the house alone, going out alone, etc).
There may also have been unresolved issues with the deceased and this can be particularly difficult to deal with.
Are there a typical number of sessions which people would attend and is there a ‘right time’ to begin bereavement counselling?
Grief is a personal emotional experience and there is no typical amount of time for bereavement counselling. It depends very much on the type of death (sudden death or suicide, long illness), relationship to person, age of the deceased, age of the bereaved person, religious beliefs, upbringing, etc). It also depends on what immediate support has been available before death and immediately after – for instance, a family may all be together for the funeral arrangements, but have to return to work/go back to their homes (which may be abroad) and then grieving becomes much harder.
It is important that people don’t get caught up in the number of sessions or when is the right time to seek help. Sometimes a GP or other professional will suggest speaking to someone might be helpful, other people feel they are ready to talk and will self refer.
For example, someone may appear to cope very well with the death of their loved one, but coping with running a home (‘he always looked after the money – I’ve never even written a cheque’ ‘she was the homemaker – I don’t even know how to make a cup of tea’) is the beginning of coping alone and this often is what brings people to counselling.
In general, I would say that a person is usually in shock initially and can seem to cope well when making funeral plans, so counselling is not usually offered at this time. Most people say family and friends are very supportive at this time and it is more likely in the period when the initial shock wears off and the pain of grief sets in that they will seek outside support. I have had clients who have come for counselling a few days after the bereavement and others who have coped well for many years and who then have another loss and this brings the original grief rushing back as well as the grief from the new loss. Having also worked in a Hospice for several years, for some having had the opportunity to talk about how they will cope after death can help when their loved one dies.
What do clients typically say they feel having attended counselling?
Clients may say when they felt anxious or overwhelmed, they were reassured because it was something we had talked about in a session. When I have talked at the Bereavement Group meetings, members have also said it is good to hear what they had worried about is quite normal.
To find out more, call our team on tel: 01892 611811