Grief Counseling looks to help a person through grief. Grief can sidetrack life due to the adjustment period it takes to react to loss. It is not something to be seen as pathological or unnatural but part of life. How well one can adjust and cope is critical. Most times, individuals adjust from grief, but recovery itself is something that never comes. One does not recover from grief but learns to live with it. While some enter into pathological states due to loss with Prolonged Grief, or worst, Major Depressive Disorder, most are able to navigate the troubled waters of loss and adjust. This adjustment though comes with its own pain and emotional cycles.
Grief Counselors who are also licensed counselors can help not only those experiencing grief and loss in normal grief reactions but also pathological, while those who are not licensed are permitted to help those deal with basic human loss. In all cases, grief counselors are there to listen and help. Grief Counselors need to be good sojourners and companions in grief. This is a very pastoral view towards grief counseling and is beneficial in helping someone deal with a loss. It does not look to follow a mere clinical plan but instead to walk with the bereaved.
A sojourner is one who walks with someone in grief. Friends, family, religious or ministers and rabbis can partake down this path with anyone. Professional counselors can also take upon this very important role. A key ingredient in any sojourner is empathy. One needs to have the ability to feel the pain of others and to allow one to share one’s pain with oneself. Sojourning or companioning one through grief is not so much about assessing and analyzing one’s grief but more so listening and being present. This type of healing does not look for time tables but instead looks to help individuals by being present in the moment.
A sojourner or companion has a variety of qualities in how they help others. They are empathetic and full of love and patience. In this patience and love they help others express their grief by listening. They do not attempt to share grief stories but they listen to the emotions of the person. They grant permission to be angry or cry in this safe place.
Sojourners do not look to have the answers but look instead to help one find one’s own answers. They do not use terms such as “I understand” or “You need to do this” but instead listen and react to the emotional state of the person. The person leads the discussion, not the counselor in these cases.
Companioning or sojourning involves being present for the pain but maybe not having the ability to take the pain away. It focuses more so on the spirit than intellect and walking beside one not leading one. In many cases companioning looks respects the disorder of grief and does not seek to immediately find order.
Those who look to help others through grief utilize a companion model or a traditional treatment model. Instead of focus on returning a person to pre-loss status, sojourning respects the now and transformative process of grief. There is a new normal due to the loss and no return to the pre loss is possible. Sojourning does not look to eliminate grief symptoms but instead values the expression of grief as an important process of the grieving cycle. In doing so, healthy continued bonds with the deceased is encouraged and not seen as pathological. Quality of care is not determined by how well grief is managed but how well it was expressed and how well the bereaved was able to express and communicate.
When helping one through the grief process as a sojourner and comforter, one should help the person be honest about his or her feelings. It is important not to be shocked at what is said but more so to give a person the permission needed to express even angry feelings. The counselor should not look to fix the situation but merely listen and be present.
Being present is one of the key elements in sojourning for it entails listening and accepting the present situation of loss. Counselors can follow a few tips as well. While emotionally listening, avoid touching. Hugs can sometimes help but as counselors, not pastors or family, it is important to keep distance because those in grief can misunderstand intentions. When asking people to discuss their loss, sometimes it is difficult to start and they may need guided. Sometimes mirroring what they are saying can be beneficial. This allows individuals to hear what they are saying and to reflect on it. Ultimately let them know that their emotions are natural and expected and they have a right to grieve no matter what others may say or do.
Empathy, patience, listening, time and gentle guidance are critical to helping people express and go through grief. It cannot be seen as something mechanical or sterile with steps or procedures. Instead one needs to see the messiness of grief and the power of listening through sojourning.
If you would like to learn more about AIHCP’s Grief Counseling Program than please review and see if it meets your academic and professional goals. The program is online and independent study and open to qualified professionals seeking a four year certification as Grief Counselor.
The Unwanted Gift of Grief by Tim P. VanDuivendyk
Companioning the Grieving Child by Alan D. Wolfelt