In terms of loss and grief, it is often the case that all that is needed to help someone is to recognise the fact that he or she is grieving and to acknowledge the painful experiences involved. Having their feelings acknowledged and therefore validated can often be enough to help someone cope with the difficult transition they are going through. Indeed, it is often people’s insensitive response to loss and grief that becomes the major problem, rather than the initial loss in itself. We can avoid this escalation of the problem by sensitively recognising and responding to loss and grief issues. Even where it is not enough in its own right, acknowledging the grieving person’s feelings is an important foundation on which to build in offering more complex forms of help. Some people may need the help of a professional such as a counsellor, social worker or doctor. However, we should be careful to avoid the common assumption that somebody who is grieving automatically needs bereavement counselling. That is not the case. For most people, social support from their family, friends and colleagues is enough to get them through the situation as best they can. However, there will be circumstances when this is not enough. Often, professional help is required when there are ‘complicating factors’ – that is, issues which tend to make it more difficult to deal with the situation. Such complicating factors can include: Multiple losses: Some people can experience a number of losses in close succession or even at the same time; for example, major changes at work combined with divorce or relationship breakdown plus the death of a friend, for example. Disenfranchised grief: This term refers to the type of grief which is not recognised and which therefore goes without the usual social supports – for example, grieving the break-up of a secret relationship, such as an affair.Suicide or murder: People grieving the loss of a loved one through suicide or murder generally find that they have an additional burden to bear largely because such deaths bring a degree of stigma. These are not the only complicating factors but should be sufficient to make the point that people often need help because the loss or losses they are experiencing (or the circumstances in which they are experiencing them) are not simple or straightforward. Finally, it is important to note that a major barrier to dealing with loss and grief in the workplace is the common tendency to avoid the subject, to regard it as something that is generally not talked about. It should be clear from what has been said above that this is a dangerous approach to adopt, as it means that individuals who need help are unlikely to receive it – and this may lead to additional significant problems for all concerned further down the line (a lengthy, stress-related absence from work, for example). Loss and grief are part and parcel of everyday life, and so it is important that we learn how to deal with them as effectively and constructively as we can, rather than bury our head in the sand and hope that they will not cause us any problems.

Dr Neil Thompson                        

Neil’s website and blog are at www.neilthompson.info

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