Bereavement counselling is a specialised type of counselling that involves supporting individuals who have experienced the loss of a loved one. This counselling helps them work through their grief as well as perhaps learn coping mechanisms to help them when they are on their own. Bereavement counselling is recommended for anyone, of any age, whose loss seems overwhelming or whose life is being adversely affected by their grief.
Grief can be described as the emotional response to the death of a loved one. Most often grief is equated simply with sadness, though this is not exactly the case. Grief often involves a progression of different emotions and reactions that include shock and/or numbness, anxiety, anger and sadness. It may take days, weeks, months or even years for someone who is grieving to cycle through several different emotions, and some people never experience all of these emotions due to a particular loss. Others may experience some emotions related to one loss but different emotions due to another. This is perfectly normal. There is no set itinerary for grief, though if there is a distinct lack of emotional response, or an emotional response so overwhelming that it begins to affect a person s employment, education or personal relationships then it may be best to consult a counsellor.
Stages of Grief
Though there is no set pathway for grief, it has been theorised that some distinct stages may be discernable in the bereaved. The Kubler-Ross model of grief, which developed after Elizabeth Kubler-Ross investigated this cycle in many grieving individuals, describes grief as a five stage process. Denial, anger, bargaining depression and acceptance are all stages identified by Kubler-Ross. However, this does not mean that all bereaved individuals will experience all stages, that all stages will be experienced in the same way, or that all stages will be experienced in the same order. This model may help others make sense of grief, but those who are bereaved should be concerned only with what they are feeling and how they are coping – not with fitting a theoretical model.
Bereavement counselling, whether it be one-on-one with a private therapist or in a group setting, aims to help an individual explore his or her emotions. At the first meeting, the bereaved will likely be asked about his or her loss, about his or her relationship to the deceased, and about his or her own life now that (s)he has lost a loved one. Answering these questions often means tapping into sadness or anger, so emotional outbursts should not be censored. Crying and yelling may come naturally during bereavement counselling and certainly will not offend the counsellor.
Allowing an individual to explore his or her emotions without guilt or censure is often what appeals most about bereavement counselling. In group settings such outbursts will not be surprising, though obviously the time spent with each group member will be more limited than in a one-to-one session. However, any emotional outbursts aimed at the therapist or other group members should not be tolerated and in fact there may be recognised rules against such situations. The length of time for which bereavement counselling will continue will most likely be decided between the counsellor and the bereaved, and will likely be discussed as counselling progresses.
Turning to bereavement counselling after the loss of a loved one is not an admission of weakness, but instead it is an admission of the strength to seek help when it is needed.