My approach to counselling is informed by the following theoretical models, which I integrate into my practise. My core training is in psychodynamic counselling but this has been expanded upon over the years, as a result of professional development, further training, varied workplace settings and different supervisory relationships. Subsequently, my practise has naturally grown to incorporate other approaches, such as, humanistic, cognitive, existential and spiritual models of understanding. By integrating different theoretical models I am able to take a more varied approach to working with bereavement and the differing issues it presents with.
My primary training is in psychodynamic counselling, which is the counselling derivative of psychoanalysis. In my view, no other therapeutic theory and approach assists in understanding grief and bereavement as much as psychoanalysis does. Attachment and separation are constant themes within psychoanalytic theory, as are the natural losses that occur throughout the transitions within life. This was evident throughout my training in psychodynamic counselling, which also consisted of specific training in loss, death and bereavement. Psychoanalytic theory provides a solid theoretical framework for understanding the mental states that can occur in grief, as well as in the working through of the more difficult and painful feelings than can emerge within bereavement. I also feel that the training I have undertaken in this approach equips me to work with more complicated and prolonged forms of grief.
According to humanistic theory, all individuals are self-directing and self-actualising. What this means is that the potential for growth and change, and feeling better, comes from within an individual. This approach to counselling is very much about providing the conditions within which this can happen. Subsequently, the therapeutic relationship is very much at the heart of the counselling, and this instructs me in how I relate as a counsellor. I aim to take a non-directive approach to my practise, allowing and facilitating the client in what they need to do for themselves. In order to facilitate this I provide a form of counselling which is empathic, non-judgemental, respectful and accepting. My hope is that this promotes a self-realisation towards recovery and feeling well again.
Recent years have seen a growing popularity in cognitive-behavioural therapy, particularly in the treatment of depression and anxiety. The basis of this approach is that it is not an event itself that causes us to experience feelings, but rather the view that we take regarding the event. Subsequently, if we change the way we think about something, we can change the way we feel about it. In grief, which is so emotive, thinking can easily become overwhelming and irrational, and a cognitive approach can help to restore a better perspective about oneself and one’s situation. On a deeper level, it can also help in reviewing the beliefs and assumptions we hold about ourselves and the world in general, which are often challenged, even shattered, by a bereavement, and which need to be re-established as part of the grief work an individual has to go through.
Working with bereavement often involves addressing issues that are at the core of existence and what it means to be human. In existential philosophy, death is one of the givens of existence, an inevitable, if undesirable, condition of life. When a loved one dies, not only are we confronted by the loss of him or her, but also by the reality of death itself. This can be the source of much anxiety and depression. There are also the circumstances of a person’s death and what this can tap into. In particular, in a traumatic or sudden death, the bereaved person is often left to struggle with deep questions and issues concerning what it means to exist. This can often involve trying to make sense of what is non-sensical, a harrowing task, but one that has the potential to bring about growth and enlightenment.
Although modern day psychological approaches tend to focus on the mind, the original meaning of the word “psyche” (as in psychology, psychotherapy and psychoanalysis) is the spirit or the soul. Spirituality, like grief, is an individual and personal affair, even if it is shared with others. It is not the same as religion, although this often becomes the place in which many find and experience their spirituality within. It does not have to be, however. I remember a saying when I worked in the addiction field that suggested religion was something people entered into to avoid hell, whereas spirituality was something experienced by people who had already been there! There is a sentiment in this phrase that indicates how spirituality, in whatever form it takes, can be found in the darkest of times. Grief can provide such an opportunity, to connect to something beyond the individual self, which can become a guiding force and which can assist with recovery.