How Do I Know If I Need Counseling?

Melissa asks this question: Two years ago, I lost a best friend unexpectedly, and I had to bear the news to her two young kids with no one there to help. After that, I ended a 12-year relationship and lost my grandfather. I took all of this in stride. Do you think this is healthy without having sought any counseling? I made changes and moved back home to start over.

Dr. Robert Neimeyer, author of Lessons of Loss: A Guide to Coping, responds:Dear Melissa: As you recognize, there are times when talking to a counselor about our reactions to loss makes plenty of sense–especially when these are intensely anguishing, seemingly unending after many months or years, and having a visible impact on our health, sense of self, or the quality of our relationships with those closest to us. Under such conditions, there’s ample evidence that grief counseling can be immensely useful in helping us make sense of the loss and the lives we have now, and in allowing us to open to the hope that the future can again bring meaning and fulfillment.

But the down side of grief counseling is that we can sometimes turn to it out of a sense that we “should” do so, sometimes prompted by the admonitions of friends who expect us to be doing worse than we are. In fact, the simple truth is that we often need no more than the support, understanding and wise counsel of our friends, families, and faith communities to find our footing and move forward in a changed world. Often, fellow travelers on the journey through loss, such as participants in community-based or web-based support groups, add a dimension of empathy and practical wisdom that makes a distinctive contribution to our efforts. But under normal circumstances–even when the losses are many–it is not clear that grief counseling by a professional is a critical component of the support we need.

From what you describe, you seem to be coping with these multiple losses in a resilient way, like a supple tree that might be blown and bent in a hard wind, but that ultimately comes upright again without losing its limbs. The losses you describe–of a dear friend, a long-term relationship, and your grandfather–likely were not the first that you have experienced, and it sounds like you have learned the ‘lessons of loss’ in a way that let you act with courage and purpose in assisting vulnerable others with the hard transitions, and in seeking a familiar place for your own healing.

Ask yourself these questions: “How am I doing now, compared to six months ago? If I continue moving in this direction, where will I be a year or two from now? Would that be a life I would consider satisfying and meaningful?” If the answers to these questions give reassurance that you are moving in good directions, I wouldn’t see counseling as a necessity. Instead, you might find that your own grief journey gives you something unique to offer others.

Neil Chethik

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Neil Chethik is an author, speaker and expert specializing in men's lives and family issues. He is the author of two acclaimed books: VoiceMale: What Husbands Really Think About Their Marriages, Their Wives, Sex, Housework and Commitment (Simon & Schuster 2006), and FatherLoss: How Sons of All Ages Come To Terms With the Deaths of Their Dads (Hyperion 2001). Previously, Neil was a staff reporter for the Tallahassee Democrat and San Jose Mercury News, and writer of VoiceMale, the first syndicated column on men's personal lives. His writings have appeared in hundreds of print and web publications. He is currently Writer-in-Residence at the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning in Lexington, Ky., where he lives with his wife, Kelly Flood, and son, Evan. Reach Neil at: Neil@NeilChethik.com 121 Arcadia Park Lexington Ky. 40503 859-361-1659 Neil appeared on the radio show “Healing the Grieving Heart” with Dr. Gloria & Dr. Heidi Horsley to discuss “Men and Loss.” To hear Neil being interviewed on this show, click on the following link: www.voiceamericapd.com/health/010157/horsley121307.mp3

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