Each of us need a sounding board, a mirror, a person who will hold space for us to be with them and for them to simply listen or "be" there the way we need them to be. That's the beauty of our grief journey; it's not about there being some behavior that needs to be stopped, some thoughts to be "gotten rid of", or some harmful emotions to do away with. That's why a grief counselor is important, to journey with you as you delve into your grieving, share your mourning, and help you mindfully be aware of your transformation as it occurs.
What Grief Counselors Can't Do
Sometimes it is easier to start by explaining what a grief counselor cannot do. We can't perform miracles and bring back the person whose death as challenged your view of life. We cannot take your grief away because we know that it is in the very pain and love that you will grow and foster new ways of living. We can't find hope and meaning in life for you; that is your job to seek. We can't create a new life for you.
So if we can't take your pain away and create a new life for you, why is going to a grief counselor so important? Because of all that we can do with you. We can help you as you explore the questions that plague you at 3 am and make you anxious. We can accompany you as you begin to discover your own beliefs about dying and grieving. We can provide space and time for you to seek the possibilities of who you are becoming, and listen to the memories of what was. We can hold hope for you when life feels hopeless and futile and when you can't even fathom that there will be a moment to catch your breath, to grow, and to live again.
How to Find A Grief Counselor
How do you find a grief counselor? When it seems like many people, all of a sudden, are specializing in grief, how can you be sure that someone will be the right fit? There are many ways to figure out who might be best for you. Sometimes the best way we stumble over the "right person" is that someone we know was helped by that person. We can hear and see how the right counselor made companioned another bereft persons on their journey.
Remember that you have every right to interview counselors in town to see if you are a match for their personality and style. Some people believe that any therapist can do any work with any person. I don't hold that belief. My basic philosophy is that it is the safety, support, and comfort in the relationship between client and counselor that creates the opportunity for healing to occur, especially in grieving and mourning.
Ask what professional affiliations a person has. Many outstanding organizations are committed to compassionate care of those who grieve. You can search on the web for people who are members of the Association for Death Education and Counseling (www.adec.org), The American Academy of Bereavement (www.bereavementacademy.org), Hospice Foundation of America (www.hospciefoundation.org) or The National Hospice and Palliative Care website http://www.nhpco.org . You can call your nearest hospice, cancer center, Alzheimer care facility, or funeral home to ask if they can refer you to someone in your town.
Does This Person Feel Right?
The general wisdom that I share with people I work with is this; know your rights. It's your right to know whose hands and heart you are placing yourself as you are mourning. You have the right to ask about a facilitator's credentials, their views of grieving and mourning, and if they have experienced their own losses. I, personally, would also ask, "why did you decide to become a grief professional". If a person doesn't know, I might (I probably would) keep looking. If they do know, ask yourself, "does their reason resonate with who I am and what I need"?
What to Expect?
What should you expect from grief counseling? It depends on the circumstances. Some hospices provide short-term support for people in the community. Other grief counselors may work with you to decide what kind of support you need and how often you should set appointments; this is what I do. I think it's important that you never feel disempowered in your grief because a counselor thinks they know more about your grief than you do and that goes for deciding together what is the best way to support you. For some people, knowing that I am available if they need me is enough to know that they have support and someone to turn to if things get to be too much.
Some counselors will accept insurance and others will not. If financial difficulties are something you are facing during your grief, seek out someone who offers a sliding scale (fees based on your income). You can also call around your area to see what other counselors' fees are so that you know what could be considered standard in your area.
And of course, the most important question that is always asked, how long do I go to a grief counselor? Again, this is a decision that you and your counselor can make together. There is no right amount of time or right steps to take. As you need support, seek the person out that feels safe and companions you during your grieving. Remember, you can always take a break from counseling and return when new parts of your grief arise. We don't deal with all of our grief all at once, thanks to our natural ways of coping such as denial. Our grief journey is slow; it about learning to live. We did not do it up until now in 6 months and our relearning now will not end in 6 months. As time passes and healing occurs, we are sometimes met with secondary losses that occur due to the death of our loved one. Sometimes, we have lose more than one person. Sometimes we move into taking care of another person and don't allow ourselves to feel our grief and begin to mourn. These will all impact your grieving and your seeking new meaning out of life.