Counselling for Unresolved Grief
Do you suffer from a grief that you don't feel you can shake? Talking to a Psychologist can really help.
What is Unresolved (or 'Complicated') Grief?
Unresolved or 'complicated' grief follows a significant loss, and doesn't appear to ease over time. As with any grief, the intensity of the loss is marked in the initial months, however, those with unresolved grief report no lessening of intensity over time. They continue to ruminate about their loved one, or their significant loss. They may report finding little meaning or purpose in life, and also report a loss of fun and enjoyment. Such grief is sometimes associated with unexpected, sometimes traumatic deaths or life-stressors.
How does a Psychologist treat Grief?
Counselling and treatment for unresolved grief involves:
Identifying previous events which may have significantly impacted upon the person suffering, such as earlier-in-life traumatic experiences or major life stressors
Developing sufficient support for the bereaved person who again may feel reluctant to burden others with their emotions
Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) to ensure that the person has healthy beliefs and behaviours around grief (e.g. grief is normal, as opposed to the thinking that 'crying is weak')
Providing opportunities for the client to examine any unresolved issues or feelings in relation to the loss
Grief Counselling Case Study*
Helen was in her late 50s. Divorced, and with her only daughter living in Sydney, she'd come to therapy with a diagnosis of depression.
Helen's mother, too, was requiring more and more support from Helen to manage daily life and chores, and so Helen would go and help before and after she went to work every day. In response, unfortunately, Helen's mother was highly critical. The food was never good enough, the cleaning was never done right. Helen ashamedly admitted that while she did love her mother, and wanted to support her, she had come to dread the time they spent together.
In therapy, Helen learned she was dealing with a kind of grief, and began to work on saying 'no' to her mother, a thing she hadn't ever done. Over the years, Helen had tried, but her mother's reaction was always anger and criticism. To keep the peace, Helen had learned to just give in.
In therapy, however, Helen was able to see that 'giving in' was a recipe for her own unhappiness. She realised that she was never going to please her mother and that she was allowed to have her own needs and for those needs to be met. Though it terrified her at first, Helen began to stand up for herself. Though her mother launched an all-out attack on her, accusing her of being a bad and ungrateful daughter, Helen stuck to her guns. Over time, her mother, though still highly critical, learned to accept that Hele would help when she could, and that 'no' meant 'no'.
To her surprise, Helen also realised the reason for her depression over the years. She realised that her sadness was linked to never having a loving mother. Her secret hopes that one day her mother would change and be kind and grateful were never going to happen. In short, she realised she was grieving for the mother she was never going to have. Though she felt silly about it at first, Helen and her therapist began to process this grief. Her depression began to lift, and, through acceptance of having suffered through years of unresolved grief, her relationship with her mother began to improve.
* Case studies are based on common characteristics of many client examples. They do not refer to any one particular person. Any resemblance to actual persons is completely coincidental.
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