Fear of dying is something normal. On the other hand, death itself is an intrinsic element of existence and all of us have to make peace with the fact that, sooner or later, we will all have to face the great unknown. Whether we’re talking about the death of somebody close to us, the passing away of someone whom we greatly admire, of a pet or even when it comes to our own demise, accepting death oftentimes implies considerable efforts and a great emotional overcharge.
Episodes of depression can sometimes be excruciatingly intense, sometimes accompanied by the feeling that the sadness of the loss will never go away. This is why the support of a counselor or psychotherapist can prove to provide real help, together with the support of the family and friends. Living through the mourning process adequately, passing through all of its stages and moving beyond it are things that require time, dedication, understanding and support. A therapist can offer these in a professional manner, so that the grieving person can be able to integrate the experience and continues his/her existence.
The grieving process:
Most often, people address the therapist in order to ease the mourning process.
Being in mourning often completely transforms a person’s whole lifestyle, affecting his/her work rhythm, the ordinary pleasure that one would find in regular activities, one’s emotions, thinking patterns, behavior and even sensations being drastically altered. In the case of normal mourning processes (uncomplicated grief), people exhibit: somatic or bodily distress at times, a preoccupation with the image of the deceased, guilt towards the deceased or the circumstances under which he/she died, hostility and an inability to function at normal parameters, as one would have before the tragic event (Lindemann, 1944). A sixth symptom is also sometimes observed in some grieving people: the borrowing of behavioral traits from the deceased.
Going through the mourning process is time and energy consuming because, “viewed from a constructivist perspective, grieving is a process of reconstructing a world of meaning that has been challenged by loss” (Neimeyer, Burke, Mackay & van Dyke Stringer, 2009).
Stages of the grieving process:
Kubler-Ross (1969) suggests that the stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. These stages are experienced both by people who are about to die and by their close ones. Sometimes, reactions such as shock, numbness or physical pain may appear.
Worden (1999) believes that people who are going through the mourning process must pass through the following stages:
- acceptance of the loss – implies accepting the idea of loss both cognitively, as well as emotionally. If the initial shock is powerful and people often deny the situation, the funeral can be perceived in a way as the first step taken on the road of acceptance.
- acceptance of pain – it is absolutely normal and even recommended to allow pain to manifest itself. Repressing pain feelings can affect the whole latter course of the individual’s life, leading to unauthentic experiences (with other, in relation to one’s own life events, etc)
- changing the context – the individual learns to accept his/her environment once again, this time without the presence of the person who has passed away
- letting go of the past – the individual emotionally relocates the deceased and continues his/her life. Moving on beyond the moment helps them depart from the past in a healthy manner, allowing them to concentrate on the present, on the important people in their present and on their future life plans.
Methods and types of psychotherapy for grief:
The methods that are being applied in therapy and that have been proven to give results are meaning making in bereavement (understanding why it happened helps in accepting that it happened), therapeutic writing (goodbye letters), narrative retelling (describing the situation when the loved one died and reliving that situation in a safe context), metaphor and evocative visualization (Neimeyer, Burke, Mackay & van Dyke Stringer, 2009).
In the same time, art-therapy seems very useful in overcoming the moment of loss. The images that are created, being products very close to the realm of the unconscious, can provide starting points for discussions that the conscious would have normally never brought forth in a conversation (Irwin, 1991).
Group therapy is also very useful, having the advantage of hastening the grieving process and of promoting coping skills, allowing the individual to remember and commemorate the deceased, allowing for the creation of healing rituals, helping to organize and regain a sense of containment and promoting the exploration and expression of feelings in a safe, larger context (Simon, 1981).
For a lot of people, the loss of a loved one may correspond with a total transformation of one’s own life. People begin to feel an overbearing importance in major questions regarding one’s life, as well as concerning more ample contexts, such as human existence in itself and the world and its natural course. In these cases, they can oftentimes make use of long term therapies, such as analytical or existential therapies. Every individual has the chance to find a way in which to keep the memory of the loved one alive and to continue his/her life. With the help of the right therapist, the loss of a loved one will still be an extremely painful experience, but it will have a much greater potential for self development.
Neimeyer, R.A, Burke, L.A., Mackay, M.M. & van Dyke Stringer, J.G. (2009) Grief Therapy and the Reconstruction of Meaning: From Principles to Practice, Journal of Contemporary Psychotherapy, DOI 10.1007/s10879-009-9135-3
Kubler-Ross, E. (1969). On death and dying. New York, NY: MacMillan
Lindemann, E. (1944). The symptomatology and management of acute grief. American Journal of Psychiatry, 101, 141-148
Worden, J.W. (2009) Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy: A Handbook for the Mental Health Practitioner, 4th Edtion. New York, NY: Springer Publishing Company
Irwin, H.J. (1991). The depiction of loss: Use of clients drawings in bereavement counseling. Death Studies, 15, 481-497
Simon, R. (1981). Bereavement Art. American Journal of Art Therapy, 20, 135-143.