Dealing with grief and loss

Grief counselling and support

Grief counselling can help you through a difficult period of loss. As it can provide comfort, support and care, and help you understand the process. It can also help you to honour and remember the person and reconnect when you are ready.

The reality of loss often strikes us unawares. Grief is a personal experience after loss. It is important to allow yourself time to grieve and to talk to a professional about how you are feeling.

On a personal note, 2011 was a year of intense loss for me, firstly with the death of my mother, followed six months later by the death of my hound dog, who had been a family member and constant companion for the past 15 years.

Grief is a process

You may be familiar with Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s (1969) five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. She proposed that these are the common stages of grief which are typically experienced, not necessarily in that order.

Another view is that there are certain ‘phases’ that we occupy during the mourning process. Freud (1917) talked about phases of mourning. DeSpelder and Stickland (1992) later described these phases as:

Freud’s phases of mourning

      1. Loss of attachment to the person or object we have lost, which leads to the loss of the capacity to invest energy in other areas of life, resulting in isolation and withdrawal;
      2. Intensive pain of separation in which we may fantasize about the person or situation still existing and withdraw our energy into ourselves;
      3. Gradually reinvesting energy into our behaviours, resulting in a lifestyle that honours the loss and is open to new opportunities.

Other writers describe mourning as a more active approach of completing certain ‘tasks’ before we can move on after a loss. Worden (1991) says that the signs of completion are that we can think of the person without pain and are able to reinvest energy into our lives.

These tasks are to:

      • Accept the loss;
      • Work through the pain of grief;
      • Adjust to the environment without the person or loss;
      • Emotionally relocate the person so they are a part of you and invest renewed energy into your life.

Other processes that are important in coming to terms with loss are to create rituals of remembering, re-experiencing and honouring the relationship or the attachment, and to realign your values in gradually adjusting to a new environment.

Contact Linda Magson, Sydney counsellor specialising in grief and loss counselling.

Reference list:

Spelder, L. A. and Stickland, A. L.(1992). The Last Dance: Encountering death and dying (3rd edn). Mountain View, CA: Mayfield.

Freud, S. (1917). Mourning and Melancholia. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of. Sigmund Freud, Volume XIV (1914-1916).

Kubler-Ross, E. (1969). On Death and Dying. New York: acMilan Publishing Company.

Worden, J. W.(1991). Grief Counselling and Grief Therapy (2nd ed.). London: Routledge.