Bereavement, grief and loss
Often it seems that people turn to therapy in response to an experience that confronts them with some kind of loss. Certain losses are profoundly disturbing. They resist relegation to that dark internal corner of the mind marked 'to be thought about later'. Bereavement, the death of a loved one, is the most traumatic of losses, and our human nature is to defend against the utter finality of such a loss in any way possible. Other losses may be less acute or traumatic; the loss of a relationship, a job, children flying the nest, a friendship or some other treasured and nurtured aspect of life. People mourn the loss of their youth, opportunities passed up, choices made and hopes sacrificed.
The sufferer is compelled to struggle with the physiology of mourning, plunged headlong into the chaos of grief and fear. For the grief stricken individual it can feel as if they are trapped in an endless cycle of loss. Disbelief, despair, exhaustion and numbness may predominate. To return to living as it once was may seem impossible to imagine. The world appears unalterably changed.
Western culture promotes an ideal of the acceptable mental state as one of resilience, contentment and happiness. There appears to be a societal dread of protracted states of sadness or depression in an individual, and an increasing tendency to offer medical 'diagnosis' for states of mind that are perhaps an appropriate response to profound loss, separation and grief. We could at times more usefully replace the diagnosis of 'depression' with 'loss'.
Current losses can evoke old losses. Losses that have been long buried may be revived by some particularly powerful trigger or event. The grief response or crisis that follows may leave the sufferer with no option other than to fully engage with their sadness and the existential questions around what it is to be human and endure such separation and loss. Counselling and therapy does not purport to offer a quick 'fix' for the process of loss and mourning. Therapy offers instead a secure and safe space in which the therapist can walk alongside the individual as they make the difficult journey towards some acceptance and assimilation of their grief and loss. Perhaps we do not so much 'get over' our losses as learn how to make them a part of our story. Hope may be hard won, but it is on the hope that the foundations of therapy are built.
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- The grieving practitioner
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