Much of therapy is a process of grieving and this holds true for grief therapy. The healing is grief. For example, you experience trauma. Part of the nature of trauma is that it is of sufficient size and circumstances that you can’t synthesize that experience. By synthesize, I mean allowing the trauma and your sense of safety to become integrated. The trauma is now part of you, blended together with you, always and forever, but you’ve found a way to carry it with you.
That’s what grief is: integrating a significant experience, a painful experience, or a new reality that you don’t want to be the case with the rest of yourself. Tears, I suspect, are the bi-product of this synthesis. They are the noises you make when you do this often quite violent, aggressive, painful work of integrating that which you don’t want into our reality.
In the most basic sense, through grief, you come to be able to say: believe and tolerate that it happened–this person passed, those towers have fallen and the election resulted in the way it did. Grief is arriving at a place where you can find a new stasis that can tolerate what was not before.
The Grief Therapist Is Your Accompanist Through Grief
In grief therapy, we hold someone’s hand during the treatment. We set up a room in which, in small doses perhaps, you can digest what happened and can confront various pieces and consequences of it. You can digest each piece emotionally. The other person in the room–the grief therapist–is so important in this. They’re your skilled accompanist through grief.
We talk about people getting stuck with grief. Some part of them is resisting the project or is doing it alone and therefore, startling themselves over and over. We get stuck with grief when we, alone, cannot tolerate what is now that was not before and therefore, need to borrow someone else’s strength while we digest our way through it.
Being Active With Grief In Grief Therapy
Doing grief with a therapist makes grief more of a verb than a noun. It’s less of a thing and more of an activity. When we’re alone in grief, it often sits with us, inactive, and that can lead to stuckage. With a grief therapist, you’re encouraged to get out there–be active with the grief.
As a grief therapist, I know what to look out for. I have a sense of where the process can get stuck and I have tools for helping getting it unstuck. But, the real value is that I know how to hang in there with people, orienting myself in relationship to your grief such that I can help you hold the discomfort and even, tolerate it. And I encourage you to move on, like a trainer, urging you along even when you want to give up while still identifying when to let up.
Closeness Is The Condition
The closer the therapist is to the client’s experience of grief, the more effectively they can help hold the discomfort, as well as understand when to push and when to let up. You can do so much more from the vantage point of closeness. From a distance, I can offer wisdom and guidance. From close, we can be right in there together where it hurts.
What does closeness mean? It’s like a friendship, but not in some important ways. Therapy is a relationship that is about the client, his or her needs, and their time and space. So the closeness exists within that mandate. You likely won’t know about your therapist’s hard days and rough times, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a genuine closeness.
Sometimes therapists and clients both will talk about closeness as the object. I suspect this is both because it feels terribly good and because of the very experience of seeing how many things move in the therapy as the therapist and the patient get closer. But, I think it’s important to recognize that most meaningful growth in therapy results from the work that’s done under the condition of closeness, or to say it differently, once you are close.
Closeness In Grief Therapy
In the simplest terms, I’ll sometimes say to clients in grief therapy, “I can help you more if we get closer.” Sometimes that makes intuitive sense and sometimes that freaks them out. This doesn’t mean a professional boundary will be crossed (and I make that clear). We can be close and still respect the rules of the roles we are in, as therapist and patient.
I think what else is going on that isn’t so often said, at least at first, is that getting close is scary. Sometimes in grief, there’s a worry that I’ll be dragged down and therefore, not able to help. There is, in some instances, a sense in a client that his or her emotions are messy or ugly and should not to be exposed. Closeness is uncomfortable for a lot of people for a lot of reasons. But, closeness allows me to do more than be smart in grief therapy. It allows me to accompany you on the journey as someone who’s been not on that particular journey, but on many journeys of grief.