When someone is struggling with grief, concerned friends and relatives might suggest ‘you should get some grief counselling’. But what is counselling and how do you know if you need it? In this blog post Cruse Clinical Director Andy Langford discusses how counselling and related support can help with grief.
Grief and bereavement counselling
Grief is a natural process and will come to nearly all of us at some point in our lives. Many people cope with the help of friends and family. For a variety of reasons, some people will need some extra support.
It’s very important to believe that there is no shame at all in needing help. We are all different and our ability to cope will be different based on a whole heap of different issues. Who died and their relationship to us, how they died, our current circumstances (including our mental and physical health) – all will have an effect.
People often assume that support means bereavement counselling or grief therapy but there are a range of things that can help:
- Reading about what you are going through can help reassure you that you and your experiences are normal
- You could have a one-off supportive call or online chat with Cruse or another organisation
- Some people find group support is helpful, and that meeting and talking to other people who have been through similar experiences is very valuable.
Some people need more in-depth help, and this can involve counselling. You can read more about when you might need more help in my article Grief, depression and mental health
What is counselling?
Counselling is what happens when you meet with a counsellor or therapist to talk about your personal problems and work through them. The counsellor helps you to address your problems by helping you to clarify the issues, explore options, develop strategies and increase self-awareness.
“Counselling and psychotherapy are umbrella terms that cover a range of talking therapies. They are delivered by trained practitioners who work with people over a short or long term to help them bring about effective change and/or enhance their wellbeing”.
British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP)
A therapist or counsellor should:
- Offer a safe and confidential space to help explore emotional problems
- Help you make sense of your world
- Help you to explore feelings and thoughts, in order to resolve emotional distress
- Help you towards a better understanding of self and others, which in turn may lead to an improved ability to relate to others.
A therapist or counsellor will not:
- Prescribe drugs
- Offer help with practical problems, such as financial or housing issues
- Unless working in a specialised service, they are unlikely to have specific information about health-related problems
Source: BACP information sheet: Choosing a counsellor or psychotherapist
Counsellors and therapists are trained in a range of skills, which include:
Empathy: being able to tune in to the way other people feel
Listening and questioning skills: to help you explain and work through how you are feeling
Professional skills and knowledge: knowing when and how to offer help and suggestions, and knowing how to respond in situations where someone is seriously at risk
Self-awareness: knowing how to help someone while protecting themselves and keeping all relationships professional
As the law stands at the moment, anyone can call themselves a therapist, or a counsellor. However, if someone is trained and qualified by an organisation such as the BACP they will have had many hours of training and practice.
At Cruse, our bereavement supporters are trained in counselling skills and how to use these to support someone who is grieving. Some are also fully trained counsellors but this is not a requirement for our volunteers.
Cruse offers a range of support, and this can include individual sessions with a bereavement volunteer. If you are offered this kind of support you will have a series of sessions (between one and six is usual) over the phone or via video call (or in person when appropriate and when we can safely resume this).
What happens during counselling or support?
In Cruse support sessions you can explore your grief with your bereavement volunteer. You can talk about the person who died, how their death is affecting you, and how you are coping (or not). Using counselling skills your supporter will help you to understand what you are going through and develop coping strategies.
Above all a counselling or support session is a safe space where you can offload whatever you have been feeling with someone who is not part of the situation.
At the moment all our Cruse support is taking place over the telephone or over the internet. Most people have found that this has worked well. But we are looking forward to being able to meet people who may particularly benefit from meeting in person in the real world, when it is safe to do so.
Some people may want to find their own private counsellor. Make sure that you look around at what’s available, and whether the therapist or counsellor is appropriately trained. Before you agree to go ahead make sure you have spoken to them, to find out whether you think you will find talking with them useful and whether they make you feel listened to and accepted. Make sure you understand the practical aspects like how you will meet, what they charge and how long they expect to see you.