Grief Counseling

The information below this addresses counseling for people who have lost a loved one to death. Grief counseling is also offered for many other kinds of losses, including losses that result from childhood abuse or neglect, illness or disability, divorce, unemployment, family cutoffs, immigration, moving, and many other causes.

After losing a loved one, people can feel as if their world has been turned upside down and they will never get out of the dark, disorienting tunnel in which they now live. Nothing seems worth getting up in the morning for. They cry a lot, they are irritable, they desperately want things to be different from the way they are.

In normal grief processing, whether facilitated by a therapist or not, the mourning person gradually, imperceptibly, begins to accept the reality of the loved one’s death and to imagine a life that will not include him (although it frequently–and healthily–does include an ongoing inner conversation with him). Gradually, gradually, the mourner begins to have some happy moments. Around six months after the death, symptoms like insomnia start clearing up. And, then, in my experience, there is often some kind of an existential or spiritual shift that happens. This may manifest itself as a dream, a change in perspective, a new sense of meaning…. However it shows up, the mourner recognizes it as a kind of grace. I usually don’t tell my grieving clients about this shift in advance because I don’t think doing so would be helpful; nobody in such pain would believe me. But they know it when they feel it. A line of Leonard Cohen’s seems to me to describe both sides of the grief experience pretty accurately: “There is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”

Some clients show up for grief therapy many years after a death has occurred. These clients have not gone through a normal grieving process. For a variety of reasons, their grief has been complicated and their healing delayed. This might be because, at the time of the loved one’s death, there was unfinished business between her and the mourner, because the mourner could not afford to grieve in the period following the death due to other obligations such as taking care of small children, because the mourner has really mixed feelings about the person who died, because the loved one died by killing himself, or for another reason. Usually the unresolved grief has been adversely affecting the mourner’s life for some time.

In such cases of complicated grief, healing can still occur, but usually not without therapeutic help. In such cases, I help the client finish her unfinished business with the deceased person by using a variety of therapeutic techniques that allow her to communicate with the person she has lost and to feel feelings that have been repressed. I also help the mourner make sense out of the lost one’s death and develop an ongoing internal conversation with her. Paradoxically, having such an ongoing relationship with the dead is what often allows people to feel safe moving past loss and forward in their lives.

Whatever our grief process, losing a loved one is a watershed event; it changes us forever, often in unexpected, life-affirming ways.