Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Are You Reluctant to Seek Counseling for Grief?

English: Comfort in GriefImage via Wikipedia[Reviewed and updated February 22, 2024]

Are you undecided about attending a grief support group, or not too sure about talking to a bereavement counselor, wondering if it would help?

If it seems as if the unfinished business of loss is getting in the way of living your life, you would be wise to pay it the attention it deserves, and if necessary, to seek outside, professional help. As indicated in an earlier post, if you find that the support you're getting from family and friends seems like either too much or not enough, you may want to look elsewhere for the understanding and comfort you need.  You may wish to consider finding support in a grief group or having a few sessions with a bereavement counselor.

If you're reluctant to seek counseling for your grief, or worry that it won't do any good, consider this: If you had a broken arm or leg, you wouldn’t think twice about seeking medical attention, yet here you are with a broken heart and you’re expecting to be able to “fix” it all by yourself.

Effective grief work is not done alone. Private, solitary activities such as reading and writing are wonderful, because it’s so important to tell your story – but it’s also important to have someone listen to your story, so that you feel understood. Many folks find that it’s helpful to work with others through talking, participating in individual counseling or finding support in a group. Reaching out to others is often very difficult when we’re struggling with grief, but experience has taught us that in grief, the more support and understanding we have around us, the better we will cope.
Rather than worrying whether it will help much, you might consider counseling as a precious gift you can give to yourself.  Effective counseling truly can change your life -- and for the better.

I am reminded of an interesting article I read in the Winter 2007 issue of the Wings Newsletter entitled Feeling the Agony of Sibling Death: My Story, by Diana Papilli. Describing how she came to terms with the violent murder of her brother twenty years before, Diana writes,
. . . I followed some early advice.  I allowed myself to feel all of my feelings: anger, hatred, revenge, sorrow, pity, disgust, grief, regret, resentment and others.  However, I did not wallow in them; not for long, anyway.  I let them be and then let them pass . . . I [also] used the services of a professional counselor.  I did not seek him initially for my grief, yet all of my experiences came into those sessions with me.  My grief helped shape both the things inside me I wanted to keep and wanted to release.  A detached but compassionate counselor can go a long way in helping overcome the most difficult of obstacles.  Grief support groups offer similar benefit.  Many years have passed and I sometimes have to revisit those feelings.  I do not treat them as evil robbers at my threshold.  Instead, I treat them as necessary assistants, showing me where I need to work next.  Living a decent, joyous life despite John’s murder is the best tribute I can give to my brother.  He wouldn’t want anything less. 
The list below was written by my friend and colleague Peggy Haymes, LPC and is reprinted here with her permission.  She identifies the following as

The Top Ten Reasons for Avoiding Counseling:

1. I don't have time.  Counseling does require a commitment of time.  So does pointless worry, repetitive arguments, beating up on ourselves and sleepless nights.  So does going to the physician to deal with high blood pressure and ulcers.  The question isn't how much time does it take but rather, how do you want to invest your time?

2. It's not all that bad.  There are times when that's true, when we simply need to keep muddling along and getting through.  However, if your pain or your grief or your anxiety is keeping you from living the life you desire, then that's reason enough to undertake the healing journey.

3. I (we) should be able to handle this by myself (ourselves).  Imagine a friend coming to you, gingerly cradling her arm.  She refuses your offer to drive her to the hospital.  "I should be able to handle this by myself," she says.  Ridiculous?  No more so than what we tell ourselves about the broken places we carry around in our souls.

4. I don't have a problem.  It's all his/ her/ their fault.  Clearly, the behavior of other people isn't under our control, as much as we might wish it was.  But what we can do is change our patterns of thinking and acting.  We can learn to make choices as to how we relate to others instead of merely reacting to them.

5. I tried counseling once and it didn't work.  There are a number of factors in the counseling process.  There needs to be a good fit between counselor and client.  There's also a need for what the Greeks call Kairos--the right time or the fullness of time.  It's the moment you know you're ready to face what you've resisted facing for a long time.  But a bad fit or timing that's off in one experience doesn't mean that you can never take advantage of counseling.

6. Talking about myself (and spending money to do it) is self-indulgent.  It would seem so, wouldn't it?  And yet, the paradox is that as we heal, we actually have more time to offer to others.  We have more energy, more resources, more of our own gifts available.  We clear out the things that have gotten in the way of our hearts and so our hearts may be more open to others.  Instead of being self-indulgent, it's actually an investment in the future.

7. I don't want to make changes.  Counseling does ask us to change, whether it's changing the way that we think, the way that we view the world, what we do with our feelings or the actions that we take.  And you have the right not to make those changes, keeping in mind the definition of insanity offered by Alcoholics Anonymous: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

8. If I only had enough faith/ guts/ intelligence/ education/ friends/ money/ etc., the problems would go away.  The problems obviously haven't gone away.  So why not learn to use the resources you do have to deal with the problems?

9. Other people aren't very happy.  Why should I be different?  You can only be responsible for the choices that you make.  What do you choose for your life?  Your life may be as small and unfulfilling or as large and as satisfying as you choose.

10.  It costs money.  As does the pizza at your door, the movies, the new sweater.  We are willing to invest our time and money into that which we value.  How important is it for you to have the chance to become the person you were created to be?  For those with genuine financial need, arrangements can sometimes be made to make the counseling affordable.

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