Because of the unique nature of grief reactions, my therapeutic approach varies according to each person. However, in broad terms, I work from a person-centered and humanistic perspective. This means that your needs and goals take priority in guiding the direction of therapy and also that a solid and trusting therapeutic relationship needs to be established if change is to occur.
My approach is also informed by a number of grief-specific theories and models. Common to these is a crucial emphasis on how individuals reaffirm, find, or re-build meaning in the wake of loss and following other stressful and traumatic life events. For example, using these approaches, therapy might focus on exploring changes in your sense of identity (i.e., your views of self, other and/or the world) following your loss and how these have led to new meaning in life, or potentially how they have closed down opportunities for meaning-making.
I also utilise other therapeutic methods depending on the nature of the grief reactions. For example, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can provide strategies to cope and manage the emotional distress associated with grief. In situations where a person is experiencing trauma alongside their grief, trauma-focused therapies (e.g., CBT-Graded Exposure; EMDR) can be helpful in managing traumatic grief reactions. Emotion-focused Therapy (EFT) methods can assist with accessing emotions that may be difficult to experience for some people. Finally, Narrative Therapy approaches can be useful in helping to develop a stable and clearer account of the loss – one in which the loss is integrated into a broader life story, rather than one that is only defined by the loss.
Furthermore, my approach is based not only on both reducing complications in the grieving process, but also on enhancing the adaptive grief responses (e.g., becoming more self-reliant, stronger, more appreciative of life) that sometimes follow loss. In other words, it is equally important to focus on exploring the potential for significant personal growth and transformation that can occur in the wake of loss.
In terms of the therapy process, in the initial sessions, the central focus is on building safety, trust and confidence for beginning the process of exploring how you are grieving. It is also important to explore the specific ways that your grief may have been complicated by your loss, as it is this that provides the focus for the therapeutic work. Exploring and identifying how a person’s grief, their identity and their overall life had been complicated by their loss, requires conducting sensitive and careful assessment, using both interview and other methods (e.g., questionnaires).
Finally, I have found that sometimes my own experiences of grief can help with understanding and relating to other people who are grieving. In this regard, the most substantial loss in my life occurred in 2001 when my wife died from cancer, 10 months after her diagnosis. Her loss, whilst devastating in multiple ways, also inspired me to pursuing new life directions, including the completion of my PhD in the field of bereavement.