This month’s guest blog comes from Wade Miller-Knight who talks about working with bereaved clients
I have been a qualified counsellor since 2008. Besides private practice, I serve as a volunteer counsellor in a bereavement agency in west London. I work in a person-centered way. Independently of counselling I am an active Unitarian and secretary of their London District managing Council. Long ago I used to be an economics writer. My website is available here
Working with clients who’ve been bereaved
My first tip is: read some theory (Worden, Parkes, Kubler Ross) because it’ll help you pass your course. And leave it at your agency’s reception desk before you greet your client. Most bereavement theory is at best problem-centred (“tasks” or “stages” of grief; “complicated” grief) rather than person-centred, and at worst hooey.
The person-centred mantra that each client is unique is specifically true of bereaved people. One death: two siblings in the same family, or two parents, may grieve very differently from each other. So much so that my main benefit for some clients is has been to facilitate them to accept and allow their uniqueness within themselves. I had a client, for example, who was so glad that their very young daughter had died. A good theorist will tell you that, second only to bereavement by murder and perhaps suicide, parents whose child has died usually suffer more deeply and for longer than any other category [yuck] of bereaved people. There’s statistical evidence to support this assertion. You leave statistics outside the counselling room door too. As it happens, that client shared context for their feelings that “made sense” to me. Which helped my empathy. But even that shouldn’t be necessary – it’s their feeling, not mine, and feelings may be congruent or less or more incongruent, but never wrong.
A recently-bereaved client was loving a new partner. All they needed was to become inwardly at peace with this. Perhaps some people in their life were baying “too soon” or, worse, “you shouldn’t”. Two sessions with my UPR and the client’s mind, heart, and partner were aligned. Shortest successful counselling I’ve ever done.
In parallel for yourself, by the way, if someone in your life dies while you are seeing bereaved clients. If your own thoughts or feelings (tears, shoulds, if-onlys, etc) are intruding into the mind/heart-space between you and your clients, I’d recommend you ask for a two or three month break, then review yourself, probably with support at your own counsellor’s. If they’re not intruding, why let some rule-of-thumb conventional wisdom get in the way of continuing your good practice?
What if your client has had a spiritual experience? Such experiences are not commonplace, “normal” in the statistical sense, in contrast to, for example, tears; but neither are they rare. Over time, I’ve heard a range, from clients whose late loved one is palpably present at a place in their home, to their being symbolically ‘seen’ in the agency’s garden, to direct connection via a medium, to a visit in spirit at the moment of leaving this world from the person who was dying (as well as a fully-down-to-earth making of a new close friend after meeting them grieving at a nearby grave in the cemetery). Again, what seems to ‘work’ for me is to welcome them all. I experience UPR as a wonderful and simple resource for receiving, and responding with, whatever the client brings, rather than having thoughts or opinions about it.
Not everyone will be free of grief by the end of their last session – even with the best counsellor, a client may not recover their enthusiasm for living, and neither you nor they can recall or replace eight departed siblings and restore an 80-year-old body to the health it had at 25 – but often through their work with you they will have made a very worthwhile difference in their lives, and it will be for the better.