Counselling for Bereavement

Bereavement Counselling: Psychotherapy for Bereavement

Cavendish Psychotherapy Practice, Central London

Grief during a bereavement is a natural response to loss and it can affect people in many different ways. We are never really prepared for grief: A death of someone close to you can be devastating. And grief can manifest itself in many different ways. Some of these can be quite unexpected.

Grief and bereavement can be very complex. How it impacts upon us can depend on many things. Factors may include the relationship of the bereaved to the deceased and how much time you spent with them. Or it may depend on the history between you, the manner of the death, the age of the bereaved, the age of the deceased and past experiences that may be reawakened by the bereavement.

When bereaved, one can feel that everything has been turned upside-down or inside-out and that an immense change has shaken one’s world. It is unsettling and it can question one’s beliefs, one’s personality and even one’s sense of reality.

The word bereavement comes from the Old English word meaning being deprived of, to have had taken away, to have had something seized or robbed or snatched away.

Is There a Normal Bereavement?

There is no normal and there is no standard bereavement. Everyone is unique and every loss or bereavement is different. Different people can mourn the same person or situation in very different ways.

Those that are bereaved may have a whole range of feelings and these will probably overlap in a chaotic confusion. The early reaction is often one of shock and of being stunned. People can often be angry and for various reasons. Numbness and a detachment from the world can be felt. Some people withdraw. And for some it can lead to depression and even suicidal thoughts.

Other physical and emotional states may include distress, panic attacks, agitation, anxiety, despair, apathy, forgetfulness, loss of concentration, troubled sleep and a loss of appetite. All of these feelings are “normal” alongside an overwhelming sadness. There is no right and no wrong in the period when one is grieving.

Because loss and bereavement are complex, many different feelings make up the grieving process. These include

  • Anger: Towards the one who left you behind or towards those who cared for the lost one. Or towards disease or the fact that you could not stop the death
  • Regret: Could things have been different, could things have gone differently, could things have been said or not said?
  • Guilt: Sometimes when a death has been perceived as a release people may feel badly about them self for thinking that. Sometimes when one is recovering, other feelings might return (like sexual feelings after the loss of a partner). Returning to a new but different life is nothing to be ashamed of
  • Yearning: Wanting to see them or to talk to them
  • Quietness: Sitting and thinking about the one who is lost is often important part of grieving
  • Loneliness: Apart from the realities of missing that person, it may be that others do not want to talk about them or to talk about your grief. That can add strong feelings of isolation and loneliness. It can also leave the feeling that one is alone in remembering someone that you love & miss
  • Repetition & Dwelling on the Lost One: Wanting to talk about the person is a normal part of the grieving process
  • Intense Sadness: It is important to be able to cry and to talk about one’s loss

All these things are quite “normal”. And all these feelings can overlap and can overwhelm you.

How Long Does It Take?

Usually these feelings peak within the first few months of a bereavement but there are always triggers and reminders which may release a whole new and powerful wave of emotions at any time. Allowing the pain can help to start healing it. Over time the strength of distress and sadness fade. The sense of loss will never leave one entirely but the majority of people recover from a major bereavement in one or two years. A longer or a shorter period is nothing to worry about but it shouldn’t last forever.

It is important to give time and space for grieving, for mourning and for bereavement: Heal at your own speed.

People generally agree that grieving goes through various stages but these can be muddled and distressing in themselves. The four broad stages are[1] acceptance of the loss, [2] the pain of the grief, [3] the adjustment to your life without someone close and [4] moving on – when one’s energy moves to rebuilding or doing new things and away from predominantly grieving.

Loss & Bereavement

Being bereaved by someone who has taken their own life may trigger additional feelings of anger, rejection, confusion, guilt, worry, shame, and the perceptions of stigma and possibly other people’s reactions.

We generally grieve most for those with who we are most familiar; those with whom we have spent time. But the same grief comes for those who have had a miscarriage or a stillbirth.

Childhood & Bereavement: For young children, teenagers and young adults, bereavement is exactly the same but they may not feel comfortable about showing their emotions. They may not want to burden the bereaved adults and add to their concerns. This may lead to unresolved issues which may need to be resolved later in life.

Other Loss: Bereavement does not have to be a term confined to the loss of someone through a death. Grief can be felt for other events such as the loss of a relationship through divorce or separation, the loss of faculties or independence, the loss of friends or family though irreconcilable differences or the loss of a job or of a familiar way of life.

Help During Bereavement

Because we encounter death or serious loss very little, it is a great shock. We tend to talk about these things in very limited circumstances. Therapy and talking about one’s feelings and emotions and perhaps exploring one’s own grief and one’s reactions to that grief may be useful when it seems most hard to bear. Discussing it without a filter can relieve some of the pain of loss.

In time and with the pain fading, it is possible to look forward to other things and to a new and different life.

But it’s a hard journey and it may be made harder by other people saying or being perceived to be thinking that it’s time to “get over it” or time to “move on” or that you should “pull yourself together”.

It’s not a good idea to avoid grief: Some people may not be able to grieve, possibly for practical reasons or they want to grieve very privately or perhaps even, not at all. Accepting and understanding the loss may be easier by seeing the body, attending the funeral or memorial service. If this is not possible grieving may be harder.

Some people may try to avoid their grief perhaps because of the embarrassment of the strength of their grief or of tearfulness and crying or of showing their emotions. The bereaved may feel that other people may not see their loss as a major event. The bereaved may compensate for this by not grieving effectively or by not sharing or showing their grief. Bottling it up can prolong the pain.

Turning to alcohol or to drugs to avoid the pain is not a long-term solution.

Therapy & Coming to Terms with Loss

However, there is no time limit on grief. It is often when everyone else seems to have moved on and be getting on with their lives that the feelings of grief, deep sadness and loneliness can really kick in. Then we can feel extremely isolated and stuck, not knowing what to do with the depth of emotion welling up inside.

Coming to terms with life after the loss, and the person you have become because of it, can feel insurmountable. Feelings of disbelief, blame, guilt, anger, loneliness or anxiety can seem overwhelming. However if the loss is not mourned effectively, or is even suppressed, this can lead to depression and mental illness.

Support from friends and family at these times is important. However, sometimes it is hard to talk to someone we know and easier to talk with someone who is not involved with the loss. You may start to feel that you are not coping. This is when extra help is needed to work through the grief. Psychotherapy and counselling offers this support, to help you explore and come to terms with the painful feelings around the bereavement. Therapy will help incorporate them in a different way that enables you to move forward. It can help to address one’s feelings with total honesty.

Bereavement Counselling with a Psychotherapist

The Cavendish Psychotherapy Practice in London’s Harley Street can provide this emotional support. It’s a safe, non-judgemental environment, without criticism and without filtering.

Discussing a loss and exploring how you feel about it  can help to start being able to bear the adjustments and a new way of life in the aftermath of bereavement.

Talking about all or any issues around bereavement and the pain of a loss can help: Subjects might include the person who has died, your relationships with family & friends, at work and the prospects of the future.

One may want to talk about the person who has died and this should not be avoided. It may be that family, friends and colleagues do not talk about them for fear of upset. But you may want to and may need to talk about them. It can help the healing process.

Bottling up feelings or unresolved issues can both prolong the pain of the loss and the ways that that pain may manifest itself. Denying the sadness will not help resolve the grief. Finding acceptance will help.

Our counsellors can also help with counselling for those who are facing or preparing for a death from a friend or family member..