Grief Counseling has to treat prolonged grief different than regular grief reactions. While Bowlby’s ideas on attachment theory were originally designated for infants and their primary caregiver, the idea of attachment and the forming of bonds are still very important elements in how one will respond to a loss of a loved one. In regards to complicated grief, its trajectories can lead to numerous pathological issues that need professionally addressed, however, surprisingly most people respond with resiliency to grief within the first six months. Only 15 percent of the population experience complicated or prolonged symptoms. Still, this number nevertheless represents a large number because everyone experiences loss. With this in mind, treatment of prolonged grief is essential.
Grief Counseling and the Function of Sadness
The emotion of sadness serves two functions. In previous articles, we discussed how it allows the person time to reflect, meditate and heal from the loss. This enables the person to find new meaning in one’s life narrative. Secondly, we pointed out that sadness also manifests itself physically to awaken others to one’s needs of emotional support. These components of the emotion of sadness are all natural and essential in normal grieving, but can become malignant to one’s emotional health if prolonged.
It is important to note that prolonged grief differs from depression. In depression, one loses self esteem and feels emptiness due to no physical or mental stimuli but prolonged grief is an acute response to loss. Prolonged grief is a desperate and painful yearning for the loss object. It is an obsessive fixation that can find no value in anything else. It is a haunting pain that finds only the ghosts of the deceased or loss. It is also associated usually with guilt and lack of esteem in regard to the person and the deceased. False notions breed within the mind, producing more intense yearnings that cannot even find joy in past memories. These unhealthy attachments can also be intensified with people who were more economically or emotionally dependent upon the deceased.
Grief Counselors and other professional counselors can help those with prolong grief. One treatment is exposure treatment. Exposure treatment forces the person to face his or her pain and talk about the most painful aspect of the relationship with the deceased. It is through this that counselor and patient can talk together about what the person feels is bothering them. It is the hope of the counselor to find out if any false notions exist within the patient during this session. Feelings of guilt, anger, or lack of self esteem can all be identified and addressed. In addition to this, the counselor will eventually set up goals for the person. Usually people who suffer from prolong grief have become reclusive. The grief counselor will try to push the person into the social settings to form new interests and attachments. The purpose is not to eliminate the past attachment, but to help create a healthy adapted bond with the deceased. The person should be able to integrate the loss of the deceased into his or her life narrative but also write new chapters and find happiness in other things.
While these things are crucial it is important to note two things. First medication may also be applied. In these cases, medical professionals need to be involved and second, since it is complicated grief, the grief counselor should be working in accordance with a LPC. Of course, if the grief counselor is already an LPC, then this is all the better.
If you would like to learn how to become a certified Grief Counselor, then please review.
Mark Moran, MA