Thursday, March 10, 2011

Thursday's Therapy - TRAUMA Therapy Toolbox - Is Achieving the "New Normal" Similar to "Ye Must Be Born Again"?

Thursday's Therapy

TRAUMA Therapy Toolbox

Is Achieving the "New Normal"

Similar to

"Ye Must Be Born Again"?

After losing a child, it's as if "Ye must be born again," like Jesus said to Nicodemus.

Things once important to you will no longer be important...

How different we are!

As bereaved parents, to what extent are we facing that we are SO different that it is as though "we must be born again"?

When Jesus described to Nicodemus, "Ye must be born again," it was so shocking to Nicodemus that he exclaimed,

"How is that possible? Can a man enter into his mother's womb again?"

It was obvious to him any individual is helpless to accomplish such a feat without miraculous supernatural help. Indeed Jesus was referring to a spiritual transformation that truly was humanly impossible without God's intervention.

So too, with us grieving parents, Child-Loss Grief is a process, a long process, similar to a caterpillar that has entered into the chrysalis awaiting to transform into a different being.

Likewise, we find ourselves undergoing a HUGE transformation process that will render us into a different person than who we were before, and perhaps as unrecognizable from before as the butterfly from the caterpillar.

Tommy says,

"When that policeman rounded that corner into my backyard while I was mowing the grass on that fateful day, I thought to myself,

'I don't know what he is going to tell me, but I know my life is never going to be the same from here on.'

I knew that for a certainty; I just didn't know that I, myself, even would become a totally different person. I didn't know that I was going to have to Re-Learn how to live."


As a Compassionate Friend said to us at a TCF meeting one day,

"At one year of grief, I felt like a one-year-old. At two years of grief, I felt like a two-year-old... And now it's been four years, and I feel like I am just now four-years-old."


Grief has pulled me open,

And I see that the life within me

will always embrace you.

And in that life is growth,

toward a destination I cannot imagine.

~Paul Bennett


In reacting to an article in Time Magazine about grief and what is needed or not needed in order to deal with it, several grief and trauma experts (who are in a group with me in "Linked In" gave their responses:

I just read the article in the January 24 special report issue of TIME titled "Good News About Grief," by Ruth Davis Konigsburg who also wrote a book "The Truth About Grief."

(Click here if you'd like to read the entire article to which these experts are referring:),9171,2042372-3,00.html#ixzz1CMJH9Pb5

{Please note, the author of this article is a journalist, not a trained therapist, and she is reporting about loss and grief based on studies of the elderly who have lost one's spouse, NOT one's child, which involves a grief that is understood by most grief professionals as well as by society at large as being the worst grief a person can endure, and by its nature therefore is indeed complicated, and that complication is understood to be quite a normal phenomenon for such deep grief.}

Donna goes on to say,

I'm very interested in hearing the responses of other professionals to this article and the theories of this author. I am not too thrilled with this article. I fear it misrepresents the practice of bereavement care. The article makes it seem that repression of emotion and resilience are the same thing. Such a misunderstanding could have long term negative consequences for someone who reads this as an affirmation of repression. Personally, I have only been in this business a few years, but a great deal of my education in thanatology has been focused on the concept that

(G)rief is unique to each individual and there are no set methods for how one should proceed through grief.

This author (of the Time Magazine article) seems to believe that grief counselors tell their clients how to grieve, and in my experience nothing could be further from the truth. I'd be interested in hearing comments from other bereavement professionals.

~Donna Woker, (grief and trauma expert)

{Comment in pink is mine.}


Below are responses other members of our "grief and trauma experts" gave back to Donna:

{The article states,}

"Our grief culture asserts that it's perfectly normal to get mired for a long time in a state of despair after losing a loved one."

Which culture would that be, because it certainly isn't the one I live in.

"The loss is always a reality" is a far cry from normalizing a long "state of despair."

As for outcomes studies, as a general rule the article's assertion that counseling services for those with "normal" bereavement patterns has little impact is true.

Most grieving people I've met in my practice needed some basic education about the impacts of loss on various areas of functioning, but once reassured that their reactions were "normal" they needed little else.

Scholarly research does seem to back up the idea that routine bereavement counseling for all who have suffered a loss is in fact unnecessary.

(However, Marley goes on,)

The literaure is VERY clear about the negative effects of complicated grief on both psychologiucal and physical functioning, and it is clear from various studies that intervening with complicated grief can be effective and meaningful.

~Marley Mills, LCSW


I also agree that "grief therapy" is not necessary for most grievers - but education and facilitation can be very helpful to most and certainly is not harmful to any.

I think what I was most concerned about in the article is that she implied that if a person is stoic and simply ignores, or doesn't address, strong emotions, they will, merely by the passage f time, be fine. This is the worst "myth" of all the so called "myths." While it is true that some do not experience problematic emotions, I can't imagine that finding healthy and productive outlets and expressions for emotions would not be helpful for anyone.

When I educate about grief, I generally say that most emotions will find a way to be expressed. If we don't find intentional healthy and productive ways to express them, they will be expressed in ways we did not intend, and those ways are often unhealthy and possibly destructive.

I tend to follow the philosophy espoused by Alan Wolfelt and believe that a caring, educated, and compassionate "companion" is very healthy for anyone experiencing grief.

~Donna Woker


While most people probably don't need grief counseling (which is fortunate, since most don't get it), all of us could use new language about grief that doesn't pathologize it and doesn't lock us into a conversation about when it will be over.

Even the consoling metaphor of "healing," with its implicit promise that we will feel better, leads us into the context of “sometime it will be over.” Worse, the hopeful metaphor of healing has a negative underside – the implication that something is wrong or broken when we are feeling grief.

I've been in a lot of conversations with grieving people since my book,
Loving Grief, was published.

I’m amazed how many are clearly aware that the real work for them is to build their lives anew in a world that no longer holds that parent, child, spouse, lover, sibling or friend.

And they also, with remarkable frequency, recognize that in grief they are becoming bigger people –

(T)heir path is to grow more resilient, more deeply spiritual, more creative, more loving, more grateful for what they once had and what they have now.

Yet our culture and the language in which our culture speaks about grief does not support this deep personal, emotional and spiritual growth.

We need new language, language that embodies a new expectation about grief and loss – not an expectation that we will “get over” our loss or “get on” with our lives, but a conviction that all the losses of our lives are an opportunity for us grow into deeper, more empathetic, more conscious human beings.

We need to bring this new expectation of grief, and the language that embodies it, out of counseling sessions and into the world, where it will shape our cultural conversation about grief.

~Paul Bennett, Author of Loving Grief


(A)s a certified grief counselor and certified thanatologist I have never told my clients how to grieve....on the contrary, as Donna stated,

(B)ecause we are unique, our grieving process is unique.

(A)s I say in my book Transform your Loss. Your Guide to Strength and Hope

(W)e do not forget, we learn to live with the loss. Many people asked me how could one "transform" the death of a loved one....and it is as you said, we can grow more spiritual, resilient and strong.

~Ligia Houben, author of Transform your Loss. Your Guide to Strength and Hope (


To Paul Bennett, Marsha says,

I agree with you about post loss growth not being understood in our culture....

I worked previously at a hospice for 18 years and the majority of people accepting an initial visit in the first 3 months post death had the unspoken question

“(A)m I normal?”


“Am I going crazy?”

Once their wide array of symptoms were normalized, their relief was palpable and they declined further service.

~Marsha Barnosky, LMSW, ACSW, ACHP-SW


I specialize in helping people overcome grief after traumatic deaths such as suicidal or homicidal deaths, and my clients express extreme gratitude for grief therapy & support groups, as they often feel so alone in their process. George Bonanno's book The Other Side of Sadness is much more balanced, credible, and compassionate in its presentation.

While Bonanno also argues that most grievers are resilient and adjust without grief therapy, he also acknowledges that grief can be tough and discusses several things that help people adjust.

(Courtney also states in her blog,

Rather than the 5-stage model, several scientific studies indicate that people go through more of a wave-like pattern between two processes: loss-oriented and restoration-oriented.

~(see Stroebe and Schut, 1999, 2000, 2001).

~Courtney Armstron, LPC-MHSP,

Courtney's blog is


I speak with the voice of a widow whose grief began prior to my husband's physical death (because grief begins at the very moment of the "terminal diagnosis.") In my book, From Fear to Faith, A Caregiver's Journey, I state with a soul unzipped and open for the world to see, the emotions of the caregiver - the fear, disappointment, the pleading with God for a release from the emotional and spiritual pain.

All said, grief is entirely personal - no one can tell another how and when to grieve. One must simply be there as a loving support, without judgment, without advice and without stating the "published myths" about what is acceptable and expected.

Grief is not a textbook, article or survey. Grief is a matter of the heart, soul and spirit - so individual that it cannot be explained or put into a thesis. May we all accept the grief of others as their path toward healing and their movement toward whatever is next. Let it be ...

Respectfully, "Joy"
~Joyce Marie Sheldon,
author of From Fear to Faith, A Caregiver's Journey


Dr. Kübler Ross, first conceived her stages of grief to help folks understand some of their counter-intuitive feelings regarding the potential loss of their own lives.

An interesting note that the Time Magazine article did helpfully point out

Although Kübler-Ross implied an end point by identifying acceptance as the fifth and final stage, she also concluded that

"(T)he reality is that you will grieve forever."

~Dr. Kubler Ross


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