Bereavement and Grief Recovery Counseling

By: Maurice Turmel PhD

During my practice years I saw numerous individuals who were dealing with the loss of a loved one, be that a spouse, life partner, child, friend, parent or close relative. The grieving person usually showed up in a state of shock not knowing what to do with all these feelings that were emerging from within. At one time I had two couples on the caseload where one of the partners had just been diagnosed with a terminal illness and only had a few months to live. Each of these situations were difficult and challenging in their own way.
With these latter couples, we would discuss what was happening and how each of them was dealing with their feelings. The diagnosed partner seemed to have the easier time, having accepted their illness and the eventual fatal consequences. I saw this type of reaction in my own family with a terminally ill brother-in-law and my sister. It was always the surviving partner who had the most difficulty with the situation because they would have to go on alone.
When it comes to grief counseling, no matter what the external circumstances, the goal was always to Listen! As a grief recovery counselor, this meant identifying the feelings behind the words so that this part of the client's experience could be relfected back to them. I would say things like: "So what you're feeling is scared, angry, depressed and/or sad." With each reflection I would ask them to check inside to see if what I'd offered was accurate. More often than not I was right. That began their introduction to listening to their own feelings.
Then I would instruct them to pay attention to that particular feeling and tell me more about it. They would then describe their feelings in detail along with whatever physical reactions might be attached to it. Tears would begin to flow as they related the physical and emotional reactions they were experiencing. This was the essence of my counselling approach for persons in grief, no matter what the precipitating circumstances.
It was not unusual for clients to ask about Stages of Grief and/or some theory they had heard about in their research on the matter. As interesting as this might be, I would point out that anything that distracted them from their feelings was a waste of their recovery efforts. In contrast, anything that helped them focus on feelings would always be the most beneficial. After a few challenging sessions, where painful feelings were addressed and released, the client would realize that this was the path to recovery. Not only that, but learning to identify, describe and release feelings as a general practice, would have benefits far beyond their successful grief recovery.
We are programmed toward externals by our various sources of news that like to talk about charts, graphs, theories and stages. These tantalizing tidbits are geared toward boosting ratings or adding another "Top Ten Ways to Heal Grief" book to the self-help section of bookstores. A helpful grief recovery resource will focus on Internals, such as feelings and emotions, because that's always where the hurt lies. Our Heart and Feeling Center determines the quality of our life and tells us when we are hurting. By focusing inward we identify and release feelings, along with the associated pain. Writing in a journal, listening to good music, reading heart-centered poetry will put you in touch with Your Heart because that's where healing actually happens.
Grief recovery counseling can come in the form of an experienced therapist or a well crafted book resource that helps you focus on feelings. A fully narrated resource comes closest to the actual consulting room experience. Losing a loved one generates powerful feelings of bereavement and grief. A feeling approach to grief recovery takes advantage of this because those feelings are so close to the surface. For some, just a little push and some well focused guidance may be all an individual needs to get off on the right foot. We all need Permission to Feel, especially when dealing with grief and loss. Our heart and soul are ready to take us there and help us engage our innate healing capacity.
With any recovery process there can be many distractions along the way. In the case of grief recovery these can come in the form of stages, charts and graphs that are intellectually interesting but have no value in terms of your recovery. Most religions, even though well-intentioned, fall short on this matter as well. A good grief resource, counselor or support group can help you focus on the heart of the matter which is your feeling nature. Externals, even when interesting, can detract you from the task at hand - healing your broken heart.
Grief recovery counseling is fairly straightforward once you understand the process. Applying externals to an internal problem is futile. Talking about your pain is not the same as experiencing it which is what a good counselor and grief recovery resource would have you do. You now know that feelings are the key to your recovery. Feeling your bereavement and grief may be painful at times but that difficulty will be short-lived. Applying tools that focus on feelings and help release them will move your healing along. What you will be left with is the love you have for that deceased loved one, and that's forever.

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Maurice Turmel PhD is a 25 year veteran therapist who has worked with hundreds of individuals undergoing grief recovery counseling. His newest release weaves storytelling with step by step instructions, music and poetry into a unique recovery resource that reproduces the grief recovery counseling experience.

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