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
• Increased anxiety
• 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.