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Areas of Expertise Continued...

Grief and Loss

Two of the most popular sayings about grief are that it happens in five defined stages and can be cured by time, but this is simply not true. My mission is to help grievers give you the tools you need to recover. I am a Certified Grief Recovery Specialist certified by the Grief Recovery Institute, which uses the Grief Recovery Method, an now evidenced-based method, that helps you move beyond grief and loss.


Grief tends to control your ability to enjoy any fond memories of your relationship lost as long as let it. By that I mean, unless you take personal action to effectively deal with the emotional pain of your loss, that pain will persist. No matter how you try to suppress those feelings, they will continue to disrupt your life. If you find that whenever you see or hear something that reminds you of that person, you find that your fond memories are swept away by all the things that you wish might have been different, better or more in that relationship, it is a sign that you have unresolved grief issues, no matter how much time has actually passed since that loss. Taking action to deal with those things that are still “incomplete” in that relationship that does not allow you to be able to remember those joyful memories without that deep sadness. Taking effective action is the cornerstone of The Grief Recovery Method, and I use the The Grief Recovery Handbook in conjunction to our treatment. Together, I will walk you through that process, hand in hand, to guide you on your journey of recovery.


Most grievers really want to feel better. They want to move beyond the overwhelming sense of loss. These are a few of the experiences I see most often:


1. Grievers tend to spend a great deal of their time focusing on regrets of what happened in the past or fearing what their future is going to be, since it is not the future that had planned.

2. They tend to stuff their feelings, because no one ever taught them how to effectively deal with any kind of loss in their lives. 

3. Most people, who they counted on to be their best support, tend to fail them, because they haven’t a clue as to how to really help them. These friends give them platitudes, rather than real assistance. They often say such things as “I know how you feel,” when that it truly impossible, even if they have experienced a similar loss. Another bit of advice that they offer is telling a griever, “You need to get over it!” A griever never “gets over” their loss, but with the proper assistance, can learn to survive and thrive in spite of it.

4. Grief can be very isolating. Grievers often feel very much alone in their pain, even when they are surround by others who have experienced the same loss. Since our personal grief is based on our own unique relationships, it is rare that they find someone who has any real concept of their level of emotional pain.

5. Once a griever has taken effective action to move beyond the emotional pain of their loss, such as utilizing The Grief Recovery Method, they are amazed that they can actually look forward to the future once more. 

6. Many times, I have heard a friend (or even a clergy person) tell a parent who has lost a child, particularly at birth, that they can always have another one! No loss is replaceable! It might sound like a logical comment, but in truth it is a very painful one to hear, since each child is unique! Likewise, grievers often find it very painful when people tell them that they should be thankful of whatever time they had with whoever it was they lost. Most grievers are thankful, but still wish they had more time to share!


Tips in helping a loved one through grief and loss.


There are no stages of grief, other than feeling overwhelmed. I cannot begin to count the number of times that I have had a griever tell me that they know they cannot get better until they go through the “5 stages of grief.” Elisabeth Kübler-Ross originally identified those “stages” as phases that people went through once they were diagnosed with a terminal illness, and have nothing to do with the survivors of emotional loss. Most people have heard of the “5 stages” and are convinced that if they do not proceed through them in exact order, they will never recover.


I also like to share that “time” is not a factor in recovery. Many people have heard people say that "grief just takes time,” or that a certain amount of time needs to pass before they can feel better. In truth, time just goes by, but has nothing to do with recovery. The passage of time, more than anything else, simply makes them used to feeling bad, but offers no real relief.


Perhaps the best thing someone can do for a griever is to simply ask them to share what happened, and then listen without analysis, criticism, or judgement.  The majority of grievers want to retell their story, but very few people offer them the opportunity. Often, when people do ask this question, and the griever begins to share, that well-meaning friend then gives them reasons why they should not feel bad, or tells them the story of another griever who suffered even more. Telling someone why they should not feel bad never makes them feel better. If anything, it only encourages to stuff their feelings. Hearing that someone else suffered even more leaves the griever feeling discounted in their emotional pain, which likewise offers no assistance.  Just listening to them tell their story and letting the griever see that you are emotionally touched by what they have to say, is one of the best things you can do, as a friend. (In my case, I may then tell them about the Grief Recovery Method program.)


Rather than telling the griever to call them if they need anything, a better plan is to offer to do something specific, such as providing a meal, helping with child care, or something else. Most grievers rarely ask anyone for anything, but will often willing accept specific offers of help. 


Most grievers are surprised at the odd times and things that can re-trigger their grief. It can be a favorite song on the radio, an item on a grocery shelf or even a smell that offers a reminder of that relationship and leaves them in tears.  

Many grievers are often surprised by the roller coaster ride that grief often is. Their emotional mood swings can often be both surprising and frightening.


On this subject, I would highly recommend you or your loved one dealing with loss read The Grief Recovery Handbook to learn better tools on how to deal with the emotional pain of any kind of loss. As children, we are told, "not to feel bad, replace the loss (when it is a pet or toy), be strong, keep busy and that grief just takes time. None of these things are really effective in dealing with emotional pain. More than anything else, such comments cause people to stuff that pain inside.


Remember, the problem with grief is that it is cumulative. If you continue to stuff your painful feelings, you eventually run out room to experience joy in your heart. Learning to effectively deal with that emotional pain is a true gift that can make every new day a positive adventure worth living. I know that for a fact, because I once learned how to better deal with the grief in my life and was able to find the joy that I had been missing.

Problem-Solving Therapy

Problem-solving therapy is a treatment that helps people take action in their lives, helping them cope with difficulties, and teaching them to proactively solve their problems. Unlike traditional psychotherapy, problem-solving therapy makes use of cognitive and behavioral interventions, helping people directly work on life's challenges. Problem-solving therapy can help with achieving goals, finding purpose, reducing depression, managing anxiety, and solving relationship problems. Problem-solving therapy has been the subject of recent scientific research, showing it can be helpful not only with psychological problems, but with physical illness as well. 


Problem-solving therapy works by teaching people skills to help them take a more active role in their lives, taking more initiative, and utilizing whatever influence they have to effectively make decisions and achieve their goals. By using this treatment approach with one specific problem, people learn to apply it to any other problem they may face, empowering them to face difficulties more independently. As these skills are repeatedly practice, clients often report an increased sense of confidence and agency in many aspects of their lives. The core components of problem-solving therapy are described below:


Addressing problem orientation: Every person has learned to approach problems differently. Some people naturally take a more submissive approach, avoid the problem or associated conflict. Others take a compulsive approach, addressing the problem aggressively, but without much introspection or creativity. During treatment, thoughts, attitudes, and strategies for solving problems are assessed, and weaknesses are addressed through cognitive and behavioral techniques. 


Clearly defining problems: Often people are hindered from solving the problems they face because they cannot clearly define what the actual problem is. For instance, if you identify that you are constantly stressed out at work, you might think that the anxiety is the problem to be solved. In reality, it may be that a lack of assertiveness with your boundaries is the actual problem, resulting in others delegating more work to you, and ultimately in you feeling increased stress.


Brainstorming and evaluating solutions: People who come to therapy often feel so overwhelmed by the magnitude of the things causing them distress, they feel it is a hopeless task to do anything to address their difficulties. By considering a multitude of potential solutions, problems increasingly feel more solvable. Thus people are more likely to take action to solve them.


Taking Action: Breaking down a problem into a series of achievable steps further helps people to actively address their problems. And rather than identifying a goal that feels overwhelming, in problem-solving therapy people learn to only plan what they are confident they can accomplish. Slowly and surely, by chipping away at large tasks, people solve their problems.

There is research that shows problem-solving therapy is helpful as a standalone treatment. However, it is most effective when incorporated into a comprehensive cognitive-behavioral treatment plan. 


Problems in communication involve problems listening, speaking, or both. Effective communication skills training can help people express themselves effectively, while minimizing negative reactions from the intended listener. This can be achieved by emphasizing the subjective nature of the speaker’s comments, expressing positives instead of negatives, and using validation to help disarm the listener and elicit empathy. Listening skills can help people truly understand the speaker, and help the speaker feel understood. This can involve active listening skills, attending, rephrasing, empathizing, validating, and inquiring.

This treatment can be helpful in numerous interpersonal situations, including family relationships, romantic partnerships, and co-worker interactions. It can be used in conjunction with treatments for anxiety and depression when ineffective interpersonal relationships are implicated. 


Interpersonal Psychotherapy

Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT) is an empirically validated treatment for a variety of psychiatric disorders and is especially effective in treating people those with interpersonal challenge. The evidence for IPT also supports its use for a variety of affective disorders, anxiety disorders, and eating disorders, and for a wide range of patients from children and adolescents to the elderly.  The evidence base for IPT supports its use from age 9 to 99+. 


IPT is recognized as an efficacious psychotherapy by the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, and the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence in the UK.  There are now over 250 empirical studies supporting the efficacy and effectiveness of IPT. IPT is a time-limited psychotherapy that focuses on interpersonal issues, which are understood to be a factor in the genesis and maintenance of psychological distress.  The targets of IPT are symptom resolution, improved interpersonal functioning, and increased social support.  Typical courses of IPT range from 6-20 sessions with provision for maintenance treatment as necessary.  The Defining Elements of IPT can best be understood by describing framework for its delivery.  This framework can be divided into the theoriessupporting IPT; the targets of IPT; the tactics of IPT (i.e., the concepts applied in the treatment); and the techniques of IPT (i.e., what the therapist says or does in the treatment).  Though individual elements in each of these categories may be shared with other psychotherapeutic approaches, their unique combination.


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