Certified Grief Counselor Article on the Nature of Grief

Grief is pivotal, central and important emotion in human life.  It is forever tied to the fallen human condition and deeply connected to the emotion of love.  Grief is more than just a sentient emotion but an emotion felt in many animals as well.  Hence grief is beyond intellect but also instinctive and evolutionary.

Individuals do consciously grieve and understand the loss but grief also is a natural reaction to loss at the most simple level.   Grief as a formula is simply put love plus loss equals grief.  Love is a binding emotion.  Love ties one to another person or thing.  Through value of the possessed and habit of possessing, anything that removes that love or thing causes discomfort.  This discomfort is grief.

Grief is a healthy and natural reaction to loss. It helps one adjust to loss and adjust to the change that comes with losing something or someone we love

The grief reaction to loss varies and is correlated to the value of the loved person or thing.  If something has little value, then the loss is inconsequential.  If something or someone has great value in in one’s life, then the loss is very consequential.  Some losses can be small and insignificant while other losses can be life altering.  The greater the loss, the greater the grief.

The loss may be objective or subjective in value according to the person.  Someone who was raised by his or her grandparents will grieve the loss of a grandparent more than someone who only saw his or her grandparents once a year.   Loss can also be subjective in that is may seem odd to others.  For example, some may find it extremely odd to mourn the loss of a pet, while pet owners would disagree completely.  Again the subjective value is key in understanding the loss reaction.

While grief in many ways is abides by universal standards and reactions, one must also realize that the reactions within this wide norm differs extremely.  So while grief is universal it is still unique.

Grief as stated is not only a conscious pain but also a unconscious reaction.  The grave importance of grief is to help the person or animal adjust to the loss.  The adjustment process is a long mourning period where one learns how to cope without the person or thing.  Most non complicated grief reactions to significant loss lasts six months to a year before it becomes labeled as pathological or complicated.   This does not guarantee that grief goes away within a set time, but it does illustrate that new coping strategies are incorporated into the person’s life to better deal with the loss on a day to day basis.

Grief allows one’s mental self to heal.  It permits the body to mourn and adjust to loss.  Long ago this natural adjustment and self healing was considered a pathology in itself but psychology now teaches that grief is an important transitional ingredient in healing.  It should not be dismissed or rejected but fully accepted as a normal and healthy reaction to loss.  Seeing grief as something bad or unhealthy is a dangerous view to hold.  Grief instead is the body reacting to loss and learning to adjust to that loss in a more healthy way.   Complete adjustment is a simple lie.   This is the price of love.  Anything worth loving is never worth forgetting or missing but grieving allows our mind to heal and learn to exist differently.

Grief hence has a very important function in healing but grief is also a social sign to others.  In animals especially, signs of grief permits other members of the community to help the grieving animal to recover.  The same social signs of grief, tears, crying and emotional withdraw signify to family and friends that one needs help.   Grieving hence serves a signal to the community to help those who are sad or depressed.  It is a social subconscious distress symbol to family and friends.

Grief because of this is not something bad.  Losing something or someone is bad but the reaction to it is not bad.  If there was no reaction to loss, then one would be merely a non sentient creature merely existing from meal to meal.  Instead, the reaction to loss not only serves as a healthy reaction to loss that leads to recovery, but it is also a sentient reaction to something or someone that was very special.

It allows one to heal and alert others of distress but it forever reminds one the value of what was lost.  It never allows one to forget the beloved and the love that was shared.   This grief becomes part of who we are the moment we enter into love or deep communion with another human being.  If one did not grieve, then what value is that relationship?  Grieving is important in identifying what mattered most and not allowing what mattered most to be ever forgotten.

Grieving in its later stages, pushes individuals to healthy coping measures where acute depression is replaced with action.  Memoralizing and living a certain way in honor of the beloved becomes healthy and conducive expressions of grief.   In national losses, social action for better laws or prevention of future loss are a result of healthy coping produced through grief.   Grief hence is an important emotion in being human and living a healthy human life.

Avoiding grief can lead to complications. We need to accept grief and realize it is price of love. Please also review our Grief Counselor Program

Suffering and loss are products of an imperfect world.  Those of faith pray and hope that the next world will have no suffering and loss.  They pray that grief will only be a necessary emotion in the temporal world and not the after life.  In this, those of faith can cope even better than those of no faith.  The reality regardless of faith though is that one must escape and embrace grief while in this world if they wish to cope and live a healthy life.

Certified grief counselors can help individuals cope with grief and embrace it a healthy way.  Change is never an easy thing but through help, one can utilize grief to better adjust and adapt to loss.  The American Academy of Grief Counseling offers a comprehensive program in Grief Counseling.  Certified grief counselors learn the basics of grieving and are trained to help others.  Beyond the basic Grief Counseling certification, members and qualified professionals can also specialize in Child and Adolescent Grief Counseling, Pet Loss Grief Recovery, and Christian Grief Counseling.

The programs are online and independent study.  After completion of the online program, one can become certified for four years.  If you are interested in learning more about the American Academy of Grief Counseling’s certification program then please review the program and see if it matches your academic and professional goals.  Once certified as a Grief Counselor, you can then become able to help others face grief in a healthy and natural way.

 

 

Mark Moran, MA, GC-C

Grief Counselor Article on Disenfranchised Grief

Grief or loss has no bounds because loss can be anything.   While most loss is something dear to oneself, there can be a wide variety of losses than fall outside of standards of what some would could consider regular.  Some of these losses are referred to as disenfranchised losses because they fall out of the usual and normative categories.

Society tends to determine what constitutes loss, but grief does not work that way.

Understanding that loss is not only objective but also subjective is key.  Grief Counselors cannot label some things or losses as normal and others as not abnormal or not important.   Yes, there must be a line somewhere but if Grief Counseling only acknowledges normal losses then grief counseling ceases to serve all.

What we consider main stream loss is loss of someone dear.  We tend to as a society rank things and classify them.  Human society also ranks and classifies losses.   Obviously the loss of a parent, or child, or spouse is considered the most devastating types of losses one can endure.   We tend to rank siblings and grandparents next, with aunts, uncles, cousins and friends thereafter.  Yet this type of ranking can sometimes be wrong.  For some, a parent relationship may exist with a grandparent or aunt or uncle.  For others, a dear friend may be closer than a distant sibling.

So it is very naive to always assume a ranking of loss.  In some cases, unique relationships exist.   Unique relationships can go well beyond human bonds as well.  One of the most disenfranchised type of loss is pet loss.  Individuals assume since the loss is not a family member or human friend that the loss of a dog, cat, horse or even a hamster or rabbit is meaningless.  Again, some individuals create bonds that are very intense.  These bonds need respected.   In the case of a family pet, it can be very traumatizing and hence a serious loss.  As a society, and as certified Grief Counselors, we need to recognize this reality.

Is there a line that needs drawn?   Can a loss become to insanely abnormal?   This is hard to say.  It is true that complicated grief and abnormal reactions can occur but the grief counselor must be very careful in diagnosing what is a normal loss or a complicated grief reaction.  If someone’s plant dies, goldfish, then how far can we begin to see a disproportionate grief reaction to the value.  Again this is difficult because bonds are what determine grief.  Abnormal bonds are subjective but where is the line drawn?  From human to dog, or dog to goldfish?  This is indeed difficult.  People may form abnormal bonds and that needs addressed but one must be careful in assessing what is normal and not normal.  There definitely is a line but it is not as universal as some may think.

Pet loss is an example of Disenfranchised Grief

Beyond the hierarchy of losses which unfortunately can determine what is a “real loss” and what is not, one can find many other types of disenfranchised losses.   Disenfranchised loss views can easily dismiss many who are forgotten in the mourning cycle.   For instance, how many times if the father neglected when a miscarriage occurs?   How many times, is a step father or step mother neglected if a step child dies?  How many times are cousins, or others discounted, beyond siblings during a loss of a brother or a sister.   One cannot dismiss the grief of other people in the life of a person just because they do not fit neatly as son, daughter, brother, sister, or mother and father.   There are numerous other relationships that can be over looked,

Relationships that are not mainstream can also sometimes see disenfranchisement.   Like a boyfriend who may grieve a loss of a girlfriend but not be seen as important to the family, there are numerous same sex relationships, where other partners are neglected in the pain and grief they feel over the loss of their significant other.

In addition to this, certain types of deaths may be seen with stigma.  Stigma can also affect disenfranchisement.  Suicide is a common example.  In these cases, the family needed support, is sometimes neglected because of the delicacy of the subject.

Other types of losses, such as miscarriage, are also commonly downplayed or dismissed.  Even the pain suffered by couples who cannot conceive.

In addition, many losses are also downplayed or dismissed that fail to meet the criteria of death.  A loss of a job, relationship, or the loss of a body part can all be downplayed.  These losses are still very painful and while they may not entail the ultimate loss of death, they still nonetheless carry grief with them.  For many the loss of a fiance or the pains of a divorce are equal to death.  The end of something and the loss of that person is final.

Grief Counselors need to be aware and alert to all types of losses and not quick to dismiss to a social hierarchy of reaction.  Every loss needs to be acknowledged and understood in relationship to the griever.  Unique grieving situations can arise beyond the mainstream.  This is not to say, grief counselors should not dismiss unhealthy grief reactions or abnormal bonds, but it does say grief counselors should keep an open mind about different types of losses.  Disenfranchised grievers can be minimized by merely acknowledging loss.

In doing so, grief counselors must dismiss comparative statements and instead address the loss.  Statements that start with ” at least it was not this or that” or “it could have been worse” or “this is not that big of a deal” need to be removed from every grief counselors treatment.  Grief Counselors need to acknowledge the loss and understand how that loss affects the individual.  Whether it is the loss of a rabbit, or a teenage breakup, the loss must be understood for what it is.  Only the griever can later access the value of the loss in comparison to other things.  In some cases, they may very well consider that loss to still be a significant loss.  An elderly woman may consider the loss of her cat to be very devastating even though many others would dismiss it.

The purpose of the Grief Counselor is not dismiss any loss but to help clients understand their loss, adapt to it and evaluate it on their own terms.  Return to healthy adaptation of the client is the mission of the grief counselor, not loss judgement.

Loss judgement is the key term to remember with disenfranchised grief.  Grief counselors cannot judge loss but only acknowledge and help others deal with it.  When loss is not acknowledged, the griever suffers more intensely.

Please review our Grief Counselor Certification Program and see if it meets your professional and academic goals

Disenfranchised grief will continue to exist because society has its own standard on what loss is.  People have their own ideas and fail to show empathy.   While this is a reality, it should not be a reality in Grief Counseling.  If you would like to become a certified Grief Counselor then please review the American Academy of Grief Counseling’s program and see if it meets your academic and professional goals.

Grief Counseling and Issues of Attachment

Grief and Attachment

The longer and stronger the attachment, the greater the grief
The longer and stronger the attachment, the greater the grief

A lot of literature about grief is overwhelmingly death orientated. This is a good thing in that death is a universal experience but it is not an everyday thing. True, the loss of a loved one permeates one’s daily life long after the event, but the actual event is singular and for the more fortunate, not nearly as regular. The reality is most people go to counseling for relationship lossGrief counselors deal with many people who are devastated by divorce, a cheating spouse, a broken engagement, or the sudden change of not having that person to call, hold, or spend time with. These aspects are very common to the human experience. With proper guidance, the wounds become scars and help one grow emotionally and sometimes spiritually.

The loneliness and the un-needed anxiety people experience in finding a mate can be stressful enough for some, but when one truly believes they found the one, only to be shocked that everything was an illusion can be a horrifying change. Changes in life style from the tiniest schedule can shake the foundation of that person’s life. Even the smallest scent or image can bring a tidal wave of emotional imagery. Unfortunately there are no short cuts in this adaptation period. As so many grief specialists emphasize, one must do their “grief work”. They must experience the change the emotional pain that accompanies it. Of course, as death, there is the acceptance stage, the emotional stage of anger and mourning, and the final adaptation to the new situation.
A good grief counselor will guide the broken person through these phases and encourage emotional release in the healing process. Only after these initial steps, can the person utilize new meaning concepts to a new reality and properly place the lost relationship in its proper perspective of his or her life story.  The question arises why does this adaptation take so long for some people? It all varies based upon the level of attachment.  Attachment theory is a theory that was used in great depth with widows or widowers in their loss of a spouse. The same can be applied to broken relationships that do not involve death, but separation. The attachment will determine the length of the adaptation to the person. So, if someone was in a relationship for many years and suddenly the relationship ceased, one should expect a greater withdrawal and more intense and lengthy adaptation period. The opposite can be said for a short two month affair where there is little attachment and hence less adaptation.
As a grief counselor, it is important not to only deal with death but also every day pains of the heart. Proper understanding of attachment can help one assess the situation and lay a ground work for eventually adaptation and assimilation of the past into the person’s present. One can never give a time frame for recovery, but with a special guidance, a grief counselor can help a person understand the phases and steps and help them take the necessary steps for a happy future with someone else.  You can learn more about grief counseling, including available grief counseling courses and online study and training programs by doing an internet search for the American Academy of Grief Counseling.
Mark Moran, MA, GC-C, SCC-C

Grief: The Experience

Everyone experiences grief differently, but there are several stages of the grieving process that are fairly universal.  

Grief is a universal emotion
Grief is a universal emotion
1. Shock and Denial.
This phase often manifests itself in a sort of numbness, a feeling of disbelief and a sense of helplessness.
2. Pain and Guilt.
As the shock abates, it is often replaced with feelings of longing for the one we have lost.  It is standard at this stage to experience guilt and remorse about things we may have done or not done, said or not said, to that person. Overwhelming emotional pain is difficult to deal with, and should not be stifled.
3. Anger.
A common question those in grief ask is ‘Why?’ Why Him/Her? Why us? Why me? Finding the answer to this question causes frustration and anger. It is common at this stage to try to find something or someone to blame, or take your frustration out on.
4. Melancholy.
You may experience a period of introversion. This stage of the process may leave you feeling low, and you may find you spend a lot of time reflecting on the experiences you had with your loved one. Those close to you will often try to encourage you not to wallow in your grief. However, this is an important part of the process. It allows you to work through your feelings about the one you have lost, as well as reflect on your time together. At this point that you can start to look toward the future, and might even see some hope on the horizon. The worst is over. Often, people in this stage of the process start to think about how they might best commemorate and celebrate the life of the person they have lost.  Deciding on an online memorial can be a great way to honour your loved ones. It allows you to have a permanent reminder of them which everyone can have access to, be involved in creating and even add to.
5. Hope for the Future.
The sense of hopelessness and despair you felt will start to lessen. You can now begin adjusting to life without the person you have lost.
6. Readjustment and Acceptance.
You will eventually begin to feel that you can settle in to new routines, and maybe even start making plans for your future. Life will seem less overwhelming. If you are experiencing prolonged grief, you may want to seek out the consult of a grief counselor. They can be very helpful in assisting you through the grief process or referring you for more intense treatment if need be.