Rachel Rambach at Listen and Learn music wrote a post last week about the challenges of helping a child with autism process and understand death.
What a challenge…
Grief and loss is a difficult topic whether working with a child with autism, a family coping with cancer, or with yourself.
It’s a challenge to feel like you need to handle it the “correct” way. It’s a challenge knowing whether you are helping or not. It’s a challenge because, as a therapist, you need to check yourself and make sure you’re handling this as a professional and maintaining appropriate boundaries within the therapeutic relationship.
It’s hard to be fully prepared to help your clients work through their grief and loss. So here are 4 tips that may help along the way:
- Listen. This is probably one of your best tools. Allowing the space and time when you are present, engaged, and listening can be one of the best gifts (and most useful therapeutic tools) you can use. Sometimes, this may involve simply being physical present–sitting with someone for awhile or holding their hand. Other times, you’ll be employing your “active listening” skills: validating, reflecting, and being fully present. Giving your time and yourself in this way can be powerfully useful.
- Provide opportunities to express. There are many, many ways people can express feelings: through words (verbal or written), through tears, through yelling, through art, through music, through prayer. The important part is not how a person expresses these difficult feelings…just that they do. And as a therapist, providing the opportunity and a space for a person to express these difficult feelings is a beautiful gift.
- Be flexible. The client you’re working with may need one thing one day and another thing the next. Just because a particular technique worked in one session doesn’t mean it will work the next time. Be flexible enough to try and provide them with what they need in that moment.
- Know when to stop. I do not feel like I’m an expert in the area of grief and loss. There are other therapists out there who are much more knowledgeable and experienced than I. I have yet to be in this situation, but there may be a time when the right thing to do is refer my client to another therapist.
If you’re interested in learning more about the topic, there are lots of wonderful, wonderful resources. I’d recommend starting with Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, who wrote books such as
- On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief Through the Five Stages of Loss;
- On Life after Death, revised; and
- On Death and Dying (Scribner Classics).