How we work therapeutically with our patients to explore loss
Tara Malyon, Integrative Therapist at Priory Hospital Chelmsford, describes the workings of a therapeutic group helping patients to deal with loss.
Loss and grief
When anybody thinks of loss and grief, we tend to presume that this is as a result of bereavement. Whilst we acknowledge that this type of grief is very painful, what is not always recognised by our patients and society are the many other losses we may have experienced in our lives. Patients are often surprised, even shocked at how many losses they may have suffered in their lifetime.
Adapting to loss
One of our therapy groups is called “Adapting to loss” and for many patients, this may be the first time that their losses have been recognised, not only by themselves but from other people. Many may have experienced a 'loss of childhood' and close relationships whilst growing up. John Bowby’s theory on attachment (1961) speaks about the human tendency to develop strong affection bonds. When the needs of the child are not met by their main caregiver, then difficult attachment styles can develop. As a result, this can cause difficult adult relationships later in life and their ability to cope with loss surrounding these relationships.
The main objective of the group is for the patient to be able to explore and acknowledge their many losses and how this has affected their lives, relationships and emotional health. Examples of losses which are not always recognised by our patients are:
- Childhood, relationships
- Schooling (including change of schools)
- Parents separating
- Moving home
As adults in the group, they are then encouraged to recognise other losses and changes which may or may not have been in their control, for example:
There may be many more on their individual lists which they had never given thought to before. We spend time exploring the patients’ many emotions experienced, or which they may have repressed and denied whilst dealing with their loss. These emotions can be similar to when we experience bereavement.These emotions can include shock, disbelief, anxiety, confusion, panic, anger, resentment, guilt and depression. Other associated emotions are:
- Lowered self-esteem
- Re-telling of story
- Sense of limbo
The group helps patients to gain insight and awareness of their feelings and behaviours around loss and to enable them to start normalising how they feel, and understand that this is a natural grief process for all human beings. The therapeutic group objective is to ensure individuals can acknowledge the loss and be validated by the therapist and peers in terms of the emotions they felt and feel in the present time.
We encourage them to process their feelings and gain an understanding of the stumbling blocks they may have experienced in the past, affecting how they deal with present losses. We also help to develop new skills to cope with their present problems as well as learning to accept and re-adjust to their loss. This can then help them to move forward in their therapeutic journey, encouraging them to gain a sense of hope and new direction in their lives.