Counselling for Bereavement in London
Bereavement refers specifically to the process of recovering from the death of a loved one. Grief is a reaction to any form of loss. Both encompass a range of feelings from deep sadness to anger, and the process of adapting to a significant loss can vary dramatically from one person to another, depending on his or her background, beliefs, relationship to what was lost, and other factors.
To schedule a confidential consultation to discuss how bereavement counselling or grief counselling can help your current situation, please call today on 020 7205 2868.
What feelings are associated with Grief?
Grief is associated with feelings of sadness, yearning, guilt regret, and anger among others. Some people may experience a sense of meaninglessness, and others can feel a sense of relief. Emotions are often surprising in their strength or mildness, and they can also be confusing, such as when a person misses a painful relationship.
Thoughts during grief can vary from “there’s nothing I can do about it” to “it’s my fault, I could have done more” or from “she had a good life” to “it wasn’t her time.” They can be troubling or soothing, and people in grief can bounce between different thoughts as they make sense of their loss. Grieving behaviours run from crying to laughter, and from sharing feelings to engaging silently in activities like cleaning, writing, or exercising. Some people find comfort in the company of others, particularly with those who may be similarly affected by the loss, and others may prefer to be alone with their feelings.
Instrumental or Intuitive Grief?
The different feelings, thoughts, and behaviours people express during grief can be categorized into two main styles: instrumental and intuitive. Most people display a blend of these two styles of grieving:
- Instrumental grieving involves focusing primarily on problem-solving tasks while controlling or minimizing emotional expression.
- Intuitive grieving is based on a heightened emotional experience that leads to sharing feelings, exploring the lost relationship, considering mortality, and identifying meaning in life.
There is no right or wrong way to experience grief, though some thoughts and behaviours after a loss can be more helpful or safe than others.
The Process of Recovering from Grief
Everyone grieves in their own way and in their own time. Some people recover from grief and resume normal activities within six months, though they continue to feel moments of sadness. Others may feel better after about a year, and sometimes people continue to grieve for years without seeming to improve or find relief even temporarily. Grief can be complicated by other conditions, most notably depression or by the person’s level of dependency on the departed.
Neither way of grieving is better than any other. Some people are more emotional and dive into their feelings; others are stoic and may seek distraction from dwelling on an unchangeable fact of living. While many difficult and complicated emotions are associated with the grieving process, experiences of joy, contentment, and humour are not absent during this difficult time. Self-compassion, physical exercise, and strong social support can all contribute to alleviating some of the most challenging aspects of grief.
One of the many challenges associated with grieving the loss of a loved one, whether to death or the dissolution of a relationship, is adjusting to the new reality of living in the absence of the loved one. This often requires developing a new routine, envisioning a new future, and even adopting a new sense of identity.
Complicated Bereavement & Grief
The experience of grief is not something a person ever recovers from completely, but time typically tempers its intensity. The term ‘complicated grief’ refers to a persistent form of bereavement that dominates a person’s life, interfering with daily functioning for an extended period of time.
Symptoms of complicated grief are nearly identical to those of acute grief, and again, the length of time it takes for a person to grieve is highly variable and dependent on context. But when symptoms are interminable without improvement, lasting for at least one year or more and interfering with one’s ability to return to routine activities, complicated grief may be implicated.
Prolonged symptoms may include:
- Intense sadness
- Preoccupation with the deceased or with the circumstances surrounding the death
- Longing or yearning
- Feeling emptiness or meaninglessness
- Difficulty engaging in happy memories
- Avoidance of reminders of the deceased
- Lack of desire in pursuing personal interests or plans
- Bitterness or anger
How can Bereavement therapy help?
When a person’s grief-related thoughts, behaviours, or distressing feelings become unrelenting, or incite concern, then therapy may be able to help. Therapy is an effective way to learn to cope with the stressors associated with the loss and to manage symptoms with techniques such as relaxation or meditation.
Each experience of grief is unique, complex, and personal, and treatment is tailored to meet the specific needs of each person. For example, it might help the bereaved to find different ways to maintain healthy connections with the deceased through memory, reflection, ritual, or dialogue about the deceased and with the deceased.
There is no right or wrong way to experience grief, though some thoughts and behaviours after a loss can be more helpful or safe than others.
Models of Grief
Psychologists and researchers have outlined various models or phases of grief. In 1969, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross identified five linear stages of grief that most people are now familiar with:
Kubler-Ross originally developed this model to illustrate the process of grief associated with death, but she eventually adapted the model to account for any type of grief. Kubler-Ross noted that everyone experiences at least two of the five stages of grief, and she acknowledged that some people may revisit certain stages over many years or throughout life.
Psychologist J. W. Worden also created a stage-based model for coping with the death of a loved one. He called his model the Four Tasks of Mourning:
- To accept the reality of the loss
- To work through the pain of grief
- To adjust to life without the deceased
- To maintain a connection to the deceased while moving on with life
As an alternative to the linear stage-based model, Margaret Stroebe and Hank Schut developed a dual process model of bereavement.
They identified two tasks associated with bereavement:
- Loss-oriented activities and stressors are those directly related to the death. These include crying, yearning, experiencing sadness, denial, or anger, dwelling on the circumstances of the death, and avoiding restoration activities.
- Restoration-oriented activities and stressors are associated with secondary losses with regard to lifestyle, routine, and relationships. These include adapting to a new role, managing changes, developing new ways of connecting with family and friends, and cultivating a new way of life.
Stroebe and Schut suggest that people will invariably oscillate between the two processes.
Stages of bereavement
1. Accepting that your loss really happened
Nothing prepares us for the loss of a loved one. Even when a person is ill and we see their death coming for a long time.
Most people experience severe shock when they’re told a loved one has died. It takes time to really believe that that person, who only recently seemed so real and tangible, no longer exists.
For a while after a loss, you might find yourself looking out for that person in crowds. You might wake up in the morning and forget momentarily that they have gone. A part of you might hope that everyone was wrong, and the person will return to you somehow.
Accepting that your loss really happened is an essential part of the bereavement process. Without acceptance, you may find it hard to really grieve for your loved one.
2. Experiencing the pain that comes with grief
Grief is the agony you feel inside when you realise that you have lost somebody. Grief is complex. It comes in a million different forms – some people cry for days, some people get angry and lash out, other people withdraw from the world and grieve in their own private way.
Different emotions associated with grief include:
- longing (to see them again)
What you feel after a person has died will depend on the relationship you had with that person and the nature of their death. Of course, there is no telling what form your grief will take, and everyone’s experience is unique.
As painful as it feels, it is important to let yourself grieve for your loss. Some people lock their emotions inside and try to get on with life as usual. Denying yourself the time to grieve properly could result in complications that prevent you from getting on with life.
3. Trying to adjust to life without them
Once you have accepted your loss and spent time understanding and releasing your emotions, you may eventually find yourself adjusting to a new kind of life. How you cope with this stage will again depend on what kind of relationship you had with the person who died. If you shared your daily life with them, then the changes to your life are likely to be bigger than if you only saw that person once in a while.
When a big gap opens up in your life very suddenly, it can throw everything into complete turmoil. Suddenly, everything can seem different. You may even feel like you’ve shifted into a different dimension, where nothing is real. The realisation that everyday life goes on even though your own life has been ripped apart can feel like a massive blow. With time however, your feet will hit solid ground again and you will start to adjust to life without them.
4. Moving on
One day you will probably get to a point where life begins to take you on a new route. You may always remember the person who died, and you may continue to grieve for their loss forever – but naturally you will begin to ‘move on’. This is not a bad thing. It does not mean you are heartless, or that you are somehow being a traitor to your loved one. It simply means you have found a way to channel your emotions into new things. In other words – you have found a way to cope.
The importance of mourning
Mourning is an important part of bereavement. Mourning involves rituals like funerals, wakes and anniversary celebrations, which help to add structure to an otherwise chaotic and confusing time.
Mourning allows us to say goodbye. Seeing the body, watching the burial, or scattering the ashes is a way of affirming what has happened. As hard as it is, sometimes we need to see evidence that a person really has died before we can truly enter into the grieving process.
Coping with Grief & Bereavement
Many people compare their grief to waves rolling onto a beach. Sometimes those waves are calm and gentle, and sometimes they are so big and powerful that they knock you off your feet completely.
Are you experiencing any of the following:
- Not wanting or feeling able to get out of bed.
- Neglecting yourself – not taking care of your hygiene or appearance.
- Not eating properly.
- The feeling that you can’t carry on living without the person you’ve lost.
- Not feeling able to go to work.
- Taking your feelings out on other people.
- You are beginning to drink a lot.
- You are tempted to or starting to take illegal drugs.
- You are having suicidal thoughts.
- You are acting recklessly.
- You are starting to behave violently.
All loss is devastating. However, grief after suicide can be a particularly complex process. Family and friends left behind by a person who dies by suicide often experience an explosion of confusing feelings. Self-directed anger and guilt are natural reactions to suicide. It’s easy to start blaming yourself and wondering if you could have done something to help. It’s also natural to feel angry at the person themselves. What were they thinking? How could they do this to you? Why didn’t they tell you how they were feeling?
Although everyone’s grief is different, there are generally thought to be three stages of suicide grief:
1. Numbness or shock – At first you might feel like you’ve stepped into a slightly different dimension. Everything will feel different and it’s possible that you’ll even want to distance yourself from others to avoid facing what’s happened.
2. Disorganisation – Eventually you will come to a point where you’ll be ready to address what’s happened. You might feel lonely, depressed and deeply sad at this point. People often have trouble eating, sleeping and functioning normally. It’s during this stage that people tend to go over and over the days leading up to their loved one’s suicide, agonising over what they could have done and wondering why it happened.
3. Reorganisation – Over time the initial shock and horror of the situation will begin to fade as your loss becomes a part of your life. You will begin to get back into the day-to-day swing of things and soon you will be able to focus on other things in your life.
What is bereavement counselling? How can it help?
Bereavement counselling is designed to help people cope more effectively with the death of a loved one. Specifically, bereavement counselling can:
- offer an understanding of the mourning process
- explore areas that could potentially prevent you from moving on
- help resolve areas of conflict still remaining
- help you to adjust to a new sense of self
- address possible issues of depression or suicidal thoughts
You will probably never stop missing the person you lost, but with enough time and the right support, a new life can be pieced together and purpose can be reclaimed.
Bereavement counselling aims to get you to the point where you can function normally – however long it takes. One day, you may be able to find happiness again. By creating a place to keep the person you lost, and finding ways to remember them (like anniversary celebrations, or leaving flowers at a memorial site), you should be able to preserve their memory and honour the impact they had on your life, without letting their absence obscure your own future.
With time, pain does settle.
Psychotherapy & Counselling for Bereavement London
To discuss your bereavement issue in greater detail or to book a tailored bereavement therapy session, simply call on 0207 205 2868 or complete the online enquiry form.