Therapy For Grief
By Mike Logan
The best therapy for grief is time and community. We
humans have been dealing with death since we began, and
every culture, every clan, every family, has created
some kind of ritual.
For example some cultures still throw spears over the
body to ward off spirits.
In our culture, homes from a more rural time were built
with a "death room" included, and when a village member
died, the village participated in the ritual, the wake,
and the funeral, and the bereaved wore black to
symbolize their grief, which meant in part that they
were going to withdraw from the normal village
transactions for awhile.
I think it is interesting to read of the evolving
funeral industry from its ancient roots, and also the
evolving interest of my profession in grief and the
By the way, grief does not always deal with just human
death. We grieve pets, possessions, marriages, ideas,
ideals, traditions, anything important to us which is
I remember from my own youth, very young in the early
1950's, our family car, which was one of the first
models available after WWII, burned in the barn on our
farm, and how my parents wept.
The car was important for my Dad to get to and from
work, and it represented upwardly mobile success for my
parents also, and the setback was hard to take.
Fast forward a few decades, to when I began working in
the addictions field, and becoming amazed at what
intense pain often lay under or within addictions.
So grieving and grief therapy became an informal part of
the addiction recovery process.
Men spoke of physical abuse, women spoke of sexual
abuse, as a rule of thumb, the point being that many
addicts experienced a betrayal of trust at the hands of
family members, and had there been grief therapy
available, perhaps the pain could have been cleared more
The purpose of grief I believe is to clear away the
wreckage of the old, so that the new can grow, and if we
do not process grief effectively, it is very difficult
to trust in closeness or relationship.
Grief is like the winter of emotional life, and
necessary for the spring and rebirth.
However we humans can get stuck in our grief, and it is
then that perhaps a grief therapist is necessary for us
to let go and move on.
I have been to many experiential workshops, holotropic
breathwork, New Warrior Adventure Weekends, where folks
have opened the door to unfinished grief from decades
prior, from veterans working on survival guilt, or
father's grieving the loss of sons and daughters,
children grieving the loss of parents to death, or
addiction, and the healing from that grief therapy
process can be profound, when the folks involved in the
community trust in the sacredness of the work.
In my own anger management and domestic violence
programs, I routinely have clients who tap into a deep
pain around a loss, and I need to have a model for them
to make sense of what is happening.
A great model for that kind of grief therapy is
psychodrama, but what we counselor's call "set and
setting" is integral to safety and trust, and
psychodrama may not be appropriate for an educational
class or workshop.
There are other models for dealing with complicated
grief, or disenfranchised grief, for example, which are
aspects of grief being delineated in more current
research on grief therapy.
The first model of grief that I came across in my
professional development was the Elizabeth Kubler-Ross
model, with its five stages, denial, bargaining, anger,
tears, and acceptance, and it has proven to be very
useful in letting folks know there is a rhyme and reason
to their experience.
Just knowing that they are not "going crazy" is a
relief, and the relationship between anger and sadness
is a very important piece of what I teach my anger
management and domestic violence classes, so that they
can be aware that anger is a great way to get out of a
vulnerable feeling state, but anger, like all emotions,
demands an action which will of course be different than
tears, with its own consequences.
Of course, acceptance is what all of us are striving
for, that day when I wake up and think of my loss and do
not experience that intense feeling, maybe a bit of
nostalgia or melancholy, but then I get on with the
business of living a life that respects the memory of
the dear departed.