Walking Our Clients Through Grief When the World Seems Amiss

Walking Our Clients Through Grief When the World Seems Amiss






It was just a few weeks ago that I had pulled away from a doctor’s appointment, headed back to my office, when my car radio broadcast that the Notre Dame Cathedral was on fire.

A few days later, it was the news about Sri Lanka and the bombings.

I immediately thought of the many people experiencing not just overwhelm and grief, (as I had at that moment), but sheer terror as they lived out or had known those affected by the events unfolding. It seemed incomprehensible. The reminder that yet again, and without warning, our lives are capable of changing in an instant held true. Yet as we live in this world we are continuously shown that evil exists, disasters will occur, and if we hold anything (or anyone) dear, sorrow will eventually  become an unfortunate reality.

Understandably so, it is during these times, as the world seems all amiss, our clients will often set aside their initial and designated areas of focus to process through what may be occuring today. Their need to make sense of the event, while attempting to comprehend  the unthinkable becomes our priority.  These also are the times I like to check in with others, even if they do not voluntarily bring their concerns about the event to our session.  With social media at the fingertips of all ages, triggers are everywhere, and we are wise to investigate how the news of the day unconsciously could be impacting those we serve.

The International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies lists common responses to traumatic events as:

• Deep sadness
• Irritability
• Self-blame
• Nervousness
• Increased anxiety
• Confusion
• Negative thoughts
• Relationship problems
• Problems sleeping

Although these symptoms can be indicative of many other concerns, I have found it important to note that during times of any media heightened tragedy they are worth exploring.

In is also in times of grief processing, the importance around how we as therapist’s interrprut our own past experiences becomes heightened. The response of  “numbing and dumb” our pain, which so many of us have been encouraged and modeled, all the way to allowing the present situation to collude with and misinterpret what is actually occuring represents the varied, yet unhelpful ways we may interfere with affective grieving.

As a therapist I recognize that grief events are strung together like a string of pearls and each experience I mourn, impacts the way I see the next. If my task is to walk with others through their own grief, the exploration of my past with another professional is paramount. My lack of not working through my own suffering, pain, and loss can prevent me from supporting others while they attempt to do so themselves. Understanding how I cope, adapt and give meaning to loss  as I integrate it into the therapeutic process must be done if I am to be helpful.

After doing my own work, I will then be able to sit with others as they agonize, allowing them them to do so without trying to fix or miminize their experiences. This way of “holding space for others” without judgement allows whatever needs to emerge happen.  It is here where we see, healing begin, recognizing our greatest pains have become somewhat redeemed as we are granted the privilege to be a vessel of hope to those who are seeking relief. 













The Psychotherapist Manifesto for Self Care

The Psychotherapist Manifesto for Self Care

I will tend to my own physical needs, making sure I am sleeping well, maintaining a healthy diet and engaging in regular exercise.

Just as I encourage my patients and clients to do, I will learn to recognize and actively tune into any psychosomatic messages my own body could be reflecting back to me, and will seek help as needed.

I will remember that my relationships outside of work that are enriching, encouraging and leave me feeling refreshed are often the fuel which allows me to give back. I will take time to maintain positive friendships (without excuse) and be OK with distancing myself from those who do not contribute to my overall well-being.

I will also recognize when I need more psychological support than my own friends or significant others are able to provide, and will actively consider seeking out my own therapist when that happens.

As engaging and listening to others share significant trauma and heartbreaking experiences on a regular basis can be difficult, my own distress levels will eventually be impacted. I will remember to check in with myself around any vicarious trauma symptoms I may have picked up, and tend to those appropriately.

I  will give myself a break when I feel overwhelmed with the sadness of the world and intentionally will seek consultation and reprieve through a trusted collegue. If I do not have one available, I will make it a priority to find someone who can fill this role. I am not meant to do this kind of work in isolation.

I will make time for vacations, family and outside interests. Joy, rest and well-roundedness make for great therapists.

Appropriate boundaries, time management and  the word “No thank you” does not make one “selfish” or “mean”.  In fact, when applied, I will recognize, these nesessary modifications make me even a better person as I engage with the relationships that matter most.

If I have a hard time with disappointing others, I will have the humility to recognize that my compassion likely drew me into this profession, and it can also become my demise if I am not careful. I will honestly assess my own codependency needs and will make necessary adjustments without guilt or self imposed anxiety.

I will take time to recognize that the impact I make may not ever be fully known or even brought to my awareness. I will learn to be ok with that, having a quiet trust that if all I did was allow another person to be “fully seen”,  I have indeed done quite a lot.

Finally, I will take time for remembering that on a daily basis,  the opportunity to impact the trajectory of another’s life, if only by listening, encouraging and sharing a few clinical skills learned along the way is more than an honor. In fact, it is through this gratitude any bumps and bruises endured  in the process suddenly seem minor when compared to the opportunity for having  had made a difference.