Many people wonder about grief counseling. What is it? Why should I do it? It's hard enough to go through this with friends and family. What's meeting with a professional going to do for me?
We know that the searing pain of losing a loved one can be endured with the right kinds of support. For example, studies show that children who lose a parent can and do make it through their trials when surrounded by other healthy adults who provide the needed functions of a caring, strong, supportive structure. It's the same for adults. As adults, we too need to be held within a strong and caring support system. These systems come in the form of extended family, friendship circles, religious communities, and other groups. By placing ourselves within these environments we often feel nurtured and strengthened. However, not all formats are for all people. Some people find that they need more focused individual attention to their grief and mourning processes. That's where grief counseling comes in. It is important to create a variety of helping platforms, because people have different needs at different times. Meeting individually with a grief counselor brings this kind of therapeutic intention and attention. I see the grief counselor as an ally in the process of hardship and change. An ally is one who cares, has practical wisdom, and skillful means to help others. We all need allies in our lives at certain times. Think of any hard experience in your life and recall how you made it through intact and perhaps even a little stronger or a little wiser. Did you do it alone? If so, did you wish you had someone to be your ally and help with some of the confusing and difficult passages of the challenge or change? The answer might depend on various factors. For example, what allies can you really identify in your life? What made or makes them allies to you? Usually, people who have positive memories of ally figures find it less difficult to seek out new allies later in life. In spite of our society's worship of independence, these people have learned to rely on others in appropriate ways. On the other hand, many people depended on figures in their life who were supposed to have been allies, but wound up failing at the task. Consequently, feelings of hurt, shame, and abandonment often leave their scars and interfere with the healthy motivation to seek help. It's plain and obvious: people who have been hurt by "helpers" find it extremely hard to ask for help.
In the context of grief counseling, the first step is asking for help. It's about making that phone call. It's about getting through the ambivalence and taking the risk to ask for help. For some, the vulnerability they feel about their loss is not enough to stop them from asking. For others, the dread of being retraumatized by so-called helpers, blocks their path.
In reality, all of us carry two basic emotions when it comes to taking the risk to ask for help. One or the other of these two emotions is either in the back or foreground as we take the plunge to engage with a potential ally. They are dread and hope. These two can oscillate back and forth in a span of twenty minutes or a long-term period of time. The dread stems from past experiences of needing and seeking help, but being chronically abandoned in one form or another; left hung out to dry. Hope, on the other hand, stems from our wish and longing to have a positive and helpful experience and a healing outcome.