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Archive for December 2016

Do Unemotional Grievers Need Counseling?

Some people appear unaffected by grief. Their life quickly returns to normal and they don’t seem to be upset following a death. Many well-meaning people, including therapists, might interpret this as repressed grief. These caring people fear that there will be a significant cost (substance abuse, withdrawal from others, disconnection from themselves, etc.) to avoiding emotions. Many times there can be, but sometimes this concern is misguided. Consider a few more factors before you tell a seemingly unaffected person to seek out grief counseling:

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  • How did they adapt to past losses? Past behavior is one of the best predictors of future behavior. If they previously experienced a major death or loss of relationship, consider how that went. If well, they will likely benefit from following the same steps (i.e. exercising regularly, talking about it vs. not talking about it, etc.). If it went poorly, they will likely benefit from trying something new like counseling.
  • How emotionally expressive are they normally? People who are typically unemotional will likely continue to appear unemotional, even in the face of catastrophe. Sometimes appearing unemotional is, and has always been, a maladaptive coping mechanism for a sensitive person who has never learned how to communicate their feelings (this person is likely to benefit from counseling). But don’t forget to imagine that it might just be their normal, well-adjusted temperament to be unemotional.  It does not have to be an indication that something is wrong.
  • Do they want to go to grief counseling? This question isn’t always so obvious. Have you asked? Can you respect their autonomy if the answer is no? Careful: forcing or guilt-tripping someone into counseling can actually make them get worse. Can you be patient if they don’t want to talk about it? How about providing some education about the impact of complicated grief (see my other post) if they aren’t sure?

Want some expert help assessing whether you, or someone you care about, would benefit from grief counseling? Give me a call at 720-515-9427 and let’s sort it out.

The Stages of Grief Myth

Pop psychology can be harmful.  The way most of us understand the “five stages of grief” (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, & acceptance) is a great example. A few cautions:

  • Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, who developed it, was not studying the experience of grieving loved ones but rather the experience of dying people themselves. Therefore, it’s relevance to grieving family members and caregivers is, at best, limited.
  • She repeatedly stated that people might not go through all the stages and that they are not linear (i.e. one stage does not neatly follow the next).
  • The stages may be most useful as a list of common grief experiences. Recent research replaced bargaining with yearning (intense longing to reconnect with the dead person) and found yearning to be the most dominant negative grief experience many people have.  This list, though, is anything but complete.  Grieving people experience a wide range of physical, cognitive, and emotional consequences.

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At the end of her own life, Kubler-Ross summarized the myths born out of her model.  She wrote:

“The stages have evolved since their introduction, and they have been very misunderstood over the past three decades. They were never meant to help tuck messy emotions into neat packages. They are responses to loss that many people have, but there is not a typical response to loss, as there is no typical loss. Our grief is as individual as our lives.”