The death of a loved one often brings people to seek help from psychologists. Here are the most commonly asked questions about GRIEF as answered by the Australian Centre for Grief & Bereavement.
How long will this go on?
The journey through grief is a highly individual experience. Rather than focus on a timeline it is perhaps more helpful to focus on its intensity and duration. Initially grief is overwhelming and people can feel out of control. With time people find they have more ability to choose when they access memories and emotions.
Am I going mad?
It may certainly feel like it at times! Particularly if the individuals need to grieve is out of step with social and cultural expectations.
Grief affects people physically, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually. People may be required to make adjustments to their lives and learn new skills, at a time when they feel least able to do so. Receiving validation and permission to grieve is important in the recovery and healing process.
Do I have the right to inflict this on others? What can I expect of them and they of me?
Others may feel intensely uncomfortable with the emotion and the pain of the bereaved to the point of feeling helpless. The anxiety this causes may mean that the bereaved person might feel they are being avoided – increasing feelings of isolation. It is important that the grieving person is assertive about their needs and wishes, and it is helpful if they communicate with family, friends, and colleagues rather than leave them guessing about what would be useful and comforting. Never underestimate the power of listening and being a warm presence.
Is there a right way and a wrong way of coping with grief?
People are individuals with personalities and life experiences, which influence the way in which they deal with grief. People’s style of grieving must be respected and in this sense there is no right or wrong way of coping. However it is generally believed that the amount of support people receive can ameliorate some of the impact of grief and facilitate recovery. People often have an awareness about what they need to do to feel better but feel inhibited or judged and don’t act on their inclinations. Talking about what is happening, what they are going through, expressing emotion and being in a supportive and accepting climate is generally helpful.
How do I know when I need help?
Reassurance from others who have also experienced grief and an understanding of what people have commonly undergone when grieving can be a helpful yardstick. Any continued fears or anxieties about your well being or thoughts of self-harm should be addressed by seeking help. Prolonged intense emotion or obsessional thoughts or behaviours that make functioning difficult may also require help.
Stages of grief
Grief does not follow a linear pattern. It is more like a roller coaster, two steps forward and one step back. Ultimately people manage to integrate the experience to the point of having a new life arising from the old. The loss remains and is always remembered, but the intensity is no longer disabling or disorganising.
Does counselling help?
It is important to say that grief is a normal response to loss and that people work through the loss with the loving support of family and friends. However, for a variety of reasons it may be necessary to seek professional help in the form of counselling. Counselling may initially intensify painful feelings as the external distractions are removed, and the client is able to focus on their experiences and explore them fully. People who are grieving may need to talk about their story over and over again and are often concerned about the ‘wear out’ factor on family and friends, especially if details are very distressing. Equally they may find that others have unrealistic expectations of their recovery or experiences. Where people have to continue on in roles as parents or carers counselling may provide valuable time-out for their own need to grieve and receive support. A supportive, safe and accepting environment and time set aside regularly can make a great difference. It may provide comfort and hope at a time of great confusion and crisis.
More questions on grief will be answered in our next blog. Additional information on grief is available at http://www.grief.org.au