Archive of ‘Health’ category

Growing Through Grief: You Will Never Feel the Same Again… But You May Become Better

Losing a loved one may shatter your life. You may feel numb. You may feel that you can’t think straight. Every heartbreak that you have suffered previously may hit you full force, simultaneously. At times, the pain can almost paralyze you. 

Be patient with yourself. Healing from grief is a slow process. It moves, not at the tempo of technology, but at the tempo of agriculture, as slowly as plants grow. But as you heal, you may discover in yourself new strengths that were not there previously. 

In my case, my mother’s death forced me to re-examine my identity and my purpose in life. This exploration eventually led me to seek a master’s in social work. I discovered that my interests include caring for older adults, persons who are nearing death, and persons who are grieving. 

Each experience of grief is unique, as unique as you are, and as unique as your relationship with the person you lost. But there are some patterns that humans share. It helps to learn these patterns, as they will help you understand yourself and other persons.  

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s 5 Stages of Grief

This was the first research model of grief, and it is still used. People do not go through the stages in a neat, sequential way. But they usually experience all 5 emotions, and move in a gradual, bumpy way from shock toward healing. 

  1. Denial (shock)—This is the emotional equivalent of an airbag in a car. It protects you from feeling the impact all at once, which could be overwhelming. 
  2. Anger—You may protest and feel, “This is terrible! This shouldn’t have happened!”
  3. Bargaining—You may think, “I’m trying to regain some control of my life, when I feel so out of control. If I change my life in such-and-such a way, then I should feel less bad.” A religious person may make deals with God, such as, “Dear Lord, if I start teaching Sunday school, You should make me feel less awful.” 
  4. Depression—This stage is not well-named. It’s not depression, but it can look that way. There is a general withdrawing from activities and social life, a conserving of energy. The person may feel powerless, but not hopeless. They are starting to come to terms with the loss.
  5. Acceptance—At this point, you may feel, “This situation stinks. I don’t want it this way. But it’s reality, and I am going to acknowledge it and deal with it as best as I can.”

William Worden’s 4 Tasks of Grief

Again, people don’t go through these tasks in a neat, sequential way. There may be setbacks and cycling. But there is a gradual movement toward healing.

  1. Acknowledge the reality of the loss. State that the person is dead. Describe how it happened, how you learned, and what you saw.
  2. Experience the pain. Face it. Don’t try to pretend that it doesn’t hurt much. It does. Don’t try to dull it out with alcohol.
  3. Adjust to an environment without the person there. The longer that people are in relationship, and the more closely their lives are intertwined, the more adjusting needs to be done.
  4. Withdraw some emotional energy from that relationship and invest it in another relationship. Be careful! You can’t replace one person with another. (We all know a grieving widow or widower who remarried out of loneliness, but chose altogether the wrong person.) Some marriages and other relationships aren’t happy. In this case there may not be much emotional pain after the death. Or there may be intense pain, as the person grieves for a relationship they craved, but never had. Sometimes a loss leads to a new project. A mother whose child was killed by a drunk driver started MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving), to try to prevent this tragedy from happening to others. 

Corr & Doka’s 5 dimensions of grief

  1. Emotional
  2. Physical—You may feel cold. (When we feel threatened, blood flow goes to our inner organs, and we feel cold.) You may get sick, since grief weakens the immune system.
  3. Spiritual—Grief may impact your belief system.
  4. Social—It may be hard to socialize, as some people may misunderstand you, or say clumsy things.
  5. Cognitive—You may have poor attention, poor concentration, or difficulty learning new material. Some children who are grieving are diagnosed incorrectly as having ADHD. When these children heal from grief, they do not show ADHD behavior. (This research study was my professor Dr. Helen Harris’s doctoral dissertation.) Some older adults who are grieving fear that they have dementia; but when they heal from grief, they can think just as well as they did before the loss. 

Alan Keith-Lucas’s study of children’s resilience after a loss

Shock and denial: After a significant loss, every child experiences shock and denial. Then there are 2 different paths:

  1. Protest: If the child is allowed to have and express the feelings, “No! This is unfair! This can’t be!” then the child can achieve “mastery,” becoming stronger than before the loss. The key is for the child to learn to express their feeling of anger in a way that doesn’t hurt themself or anyone else. 
  2. Despair and Detachment: If the child is not allowed to protest, the child falls into despair and detachment. These children are not troublesome. However, as adults, they may not function very well. They struggle to keep a job or stay in a relationship.  

Books—Some of my favorite books about grief are:

  • Doka, Grief is a Journey 
  • Neeld, Seven Choices: Finding daylight after loss shatters your world 
  • O’Brien, The New Day Journal 
  • Wings of Change Publications, The Nature of Grief: Honoring and Healing the Seasons of Loss. 

Are you currently grieving? 

We experience grief not only when a loved one dies, but also when we lose anything that is important to us, such as our health, a job, or a treasured relationship. If you are grieving, it would be my honor to share your journey with you. Grief is too hard a journey to travel alone.

[I wish to thank Dr. Helen Harris and Dr. Richard D. Grant, Jr., for teaching me the above material.] 

Written by: Catherine C. Stansbury, LMSW, supervised by Melissa L. Gould, LCSW-S. Catherine is a therapist here at Austin Family Counseling. She is an EMDR Trained Therapist specializing in trauma therapy for adults. She has a Master of Social Work from Baylor University, where one of her internships was in a hospice agency. She is a PAC Certified Independent Consultant, trained by the Positive Approach to Care organization; a Certified Practitioner of the MBTI, trained by The Myers & Briggs Foundation; and an associate member of the Aging Life Care Association.




The Container You Create

With the rise of telehealth and the quick ubiquitous implementation of it, and then the long year that has followed; it might be a good time to pause and consider how your therapeutic container is treating you.

One marked benefit of hosting sessions in your own space is the fluidity with which therapy can exist in the midst of your daily life. Being in your space means being around your preferred creature comforts (including possible “therapy animals”). This shift means skipping the commute to the office, creating possible ease in childcare or work/school scheduling. 

There are also noted drawbacks to this technological switch. 

Pre-Covid, there was a certain ritualistic bookending on either end of the session that occurred by way of driving or walking to the office, sitting in the waiting room, then traveling to your next destination. There was inherently a moment for reflection and integration. On the front end, preparation time was available- a review of the week, or of existing material. Post-session, there existed a buffer between what came up in session and whatever real-world situation required your immediate attention. If something difficult arose or trauma processing occurred, that time and space enabled a somatic come-down before the stressors of the day reared their incessant heads.

Now, when working over a telehealth platform, it is not uncommon to jump from work into session then back into life mode, and vice versa. 

Here are some considerations to create appropriate space and get the most out of your sessions and reclaim the quiet spaces that used to buttress session:

– To prepare for session: Dedicate a space in your home for this time. If possible, make sure not to be backlit, and sit in a comfortable seat. Have a glass of water and blanket within reach. Whenever possible, use this dedicated space for each appointment. 

– Ensure you have a sonically private space where there won’t be intrusive noises and no one is within earshot

– Plan for at least 15 minutes prior to the session to prepare. This might look like making some tea, taking a walk, free-writing, or some form of creative expression 

– During the session: turn off your self-view. If using a platform that enables the removal of your tiny thumbnail mirror, I suggest it. Not only is it distracting, but it potentially feeds the part of you that might be tempted to ensure you’re doing therapy “right.” 

– After the session: instead of closing the computer and heading back into your life of working, emailing, parenting, or erranding— make a conscious choice about what this transitional moment looks like. Can you use another 15-minute pause prior to quotidian demands beckoning?

– Grounding both into session and after the session as a form of aftercare is an integral part of this work. You can enlist your therapist for some specifics here based on what you’re working on

Reflect on what this switch has meant for you— what are you missing from in-person sessions? What is working better for you remotely? The space itself, no matter its iteration, is part of the therapeutic processing—this can be a topic you internally and externally and consciously explore within the therapeutic realm.

Written by: Ash Compton, LMFT-Associate, EMDR-Trained Supervised by Susan Henderson, M.Ed, LMFT-S, LPC-S


The Benefits of Committing to a Long-Term Relationship with a Therapist

Therapy. Sometimes we get the idea to enter therapy when life is going smooth, but we’d like to tend to our self-growth anyway. More often we get the idea to enter therapy when something traumatic has occurred in our lives or we’ve tried everything else we could think of first (aka we’re desperate).

We want something to change, and we want it to change fast because we’re tired of feeling this way.

We may still be hesitant to hand over our time and money to a therapist, but we bargain with ourselves. “I can commit to this for a few months.” And we do. And things may start to feel a little better. The storm settles. We’ve had some time to process. Things might even feel somewhat normal again.

We did what we said we would do. We stuck it out for a few months.

And all the thoughts start swirling in our heads about why it might be a good time to say goodbye:

We’re feeling better.

Money’s a little tight.

It’s not always fun to show up and be vulnerable.

Do we really need this? Or is it an unnecessary luxury? There are so many other responsibilities to manage.

I say this all from firsthand experience. These were the thoughts I bumped into after seeing my therapist for a few months (yes, therapists see therapists too).

Afterall, they’re valid and convincing thoughts.

And yet, I decided to stick with my therapist anyway. Something told me these reasons to leave were emerging as a convenient way to avoid digging deeper.

Now, six months later, I realize I was on the verge of doing some real work with my therapist. Work that has already and will continue to shift my life in some powerful ways. 

It’s not always comfortable, but I’m glad I’ve stayed.

Here are some reasons I’ve come to believe in the value of committing to a long-term relationship with a therapist:

1. Trust and safety take time

In therapy, the relationship is key. The amount of trust and safety you feel with your therapist determines how authentically and vulnerably you’re able to show up. And trust and safety take time. Think about the people you’re truly yourself with. How long have you known them? I once had a mother of a client I see reach out to me concerned. Her son told her he wasn’t being completely honest with me. I had seen him for five sessions. I told her I probably wouldn’t be honest with me either at this point. Trust in a relationship takes time.

2. Deep-seated patterns don’t change overnight

Oftentimes, when we begin therapy, we become aware of patterns that have been part of our lives for years, maybe even decades. And even if they’re not healthy patterns, they’ve become part of how we operate and even part of our identities. There can be a lot of delicate untangling to do. And after we untangle, we have to learn new ways of being and operating. These kinds of shifts understandably take time.

3. Therapy is continuously empowering

Even if you’re not facing something acutely stressful in your life, there is a lot of beneficial work that can be done in therapy. For fifty minutes, you are turning inward, slowing down, practicing being with yourself and your emotions, expanding your capacity for feeling, and taking responsibility for the state of your life. All of this creates a more mindful approach to living that then ripples out and affects the rest of your week. The decisions you make. The behaviors you choose. You begin to have more say in your life. Even if you’re not in crisis, it is always empowering to slow down and become more aware of how you’re feeling, what you’re needing, and what you’re choosing. 

4. Your mental health matters

In a world where self-care usually falls to the bottom of the barrel in comparison to work and responsibilities, carving out an hour each week in which you choose your mental health is a gift you give yourself that fosters a kinder, gentler relationship with yourself where your feelings matter.

5. You learn how to be with your emotions

Everywhere else in our lives, the people who care about us want to offer solutions. When we tell them what we’re going through, they instinctively want to fix it. Quickly. As a result, we are constantly taken away from simply experiencing our emotions. Therapy may be the only place in your life where you can truly be with your experience. Not only is this healing, but it deepens your ability to be with your feelings. When we don’t know how to be with our feelings, we run away and distract ourselves. We blame others. We act out. As we learn how to be with our feelings in therapy, our worlds start to feel safer. We learn how to allow. We take more deep breaths. We react less and thoughtfully respond more. 

6. You learn how to be honest and how liberating it is

To have a place where you can just. be. yourself. Most of the time, we have to consider the feelings of others. We modify or perform in some manner. In therapy, where it just gets to be about you, not the expectations of others, you begin to speak truth in a way you may never have before. As a result, your life starts to feel more honest.

7. Life is constantly offering us opportunities for growth

Short-term therapy is based on the idea that there’s a problem to be fixed. Fix the problem and you’re good to go. But the thing is, that’s not how life works. Life is a continuous process of growth and change. Once we reach the top of one mountain, another appears. Long-term therapy acknowledges this. It acknowledges that to be human, with all of our unique emotions and fears, challenges us in an ongoing manner. It acknowledges that the whole reason we’re here is to keep stepping into growth and to keep doing the work so our lives continue to feel alive and rewarding. Long-term therapy acknowledges that change is constant and so support should be constant too.

Long-term therapy provides a safe and empowering shelter where you continue to grow, heal, and nurture the relationship you have with yourself and life. A therapist is a wonderful resource to support you on your journey. 

Written By: Jamie Alger, LPC-Associate Supervised by Lora Ferguson, LPC-S


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