Catholic Grief Therapy

Catholic Grief Therapy: Finding Comfort During Loss

As something is taken away, the emptiness that surrounds us beckons to be attended to.  Not filled, not interrupted, but acknowledged and allowed. It is in this space that we can decide to sit alone, which is understandable, appropriate and often very necessary. Alone can also be alternated with reaching out. Therapy and counselling are two terms that can be interchanged. However, they each have quite distinct meanings that set them apart from each other.

Counselling is a more direct relationship and often involves advice giving and the suggestion of strategies to improve your day to day experience of well-being.

Therapy tends to fall under two different categories.

  • Cognitive Behaviour Therapy commonly known as CBT, is more accurately described as a counselling model where you are encouraged to view your situation from a different perspective and then prescribed with suggested strategies to change how you manage your feelings.
  • Psychodynamic psychotherapy is a more relational model in which the relationship between client and therapist is central to the therapy. It is within your conversations with the therapist that the deeper relational dynamics underlying ways of being, thinking and doing are uncovered and worked through.

Depending upon your preference of therapy, you are always free to choose whichever style suits you most.  One of the most important determining factors, no matter which therapeutic style you prefer, is to find the right person, one who makes you feel heard and understood.  You may even wish to find a therapist who sees grief through a Catholic/Christian Faith Tradition lens.

Each one of us experiences therapeutic benefits in different ways.  Therapy for some can mean one on one conversations, but for others, the therapeutic benefit of the group far outweighs the therapeutic conversation between therapist and client alone.  Support groups can offer the most wonderful support where your shared and lived experience of grief creates a sense of deep connection within a community.

Types of therapy

Regardless of therapy as a service, there are many types of therapy that you can engage with to help make your days gentler, despite the heartache and suffering that you may be experiencing.

  • Massage can provide enormous relief to the tension that gets held in the body during grief.
  • Walking and running can provide enormous relief as the release of tension with every step can help the body to relax and break the stress circuit that comes with grief.
  • A walk in nature, surrounded by God’s creation can shift states of extreme anxiety and depression, providing momentary relief that can feel like therapy.
  • Prayer in community. Going to church and hearing the word of God can be just the kind of therapy that you need once a week. Prayer can take many forms, and praying in community can be a portal to connect not just with God but also with your loved ones.
  • Prayer in solitude. Sitting and talking with Jesus to develop an intimate relationship with him can be one of the most profoundly transformative experiences of consolation. This is because you show up as you are, as your truly authentic self to say whatever needs to be said with someone who loves you unconditionally.  This feeling of being reciprocated by unconditional love after reaching out to is what transforms Jesus into the Christ within, reassuring us that life and love is eternally unfolding within our hearts.
  • We would never make the assumption that any one therapy is better or more significant than another. The key to therapy is knowing what helps you on this journey to feel more able to live into your daily experience, whatever that may be.

The traumatic dimension of grief

One of the things to remember about grief is that while the loss of a loved can be hard to cope with, most of us are no strangers to grief.  It’s not uncommon for example, for the death of someone we love to be the catalyst for the opening up of deep wounds from the past.  One of the things that our Catholic faith teaches is that we are deeply impacted upon by internal and external circumstances.  As James Finlay, the great contemporary contemplative mystic says, it’s not what’s done to us, it’s what gets done, does to us.  When we get wounded and then circumstance upon circumstance, wound upon wound gathers across a life time, we develop a complexity of feelings and emotions that can be difficult to unpack and unravel, especially when followed by loss.

This is why grief therapy can be so important, to loosen the ties that bind us to our traumatic memory.  And one type of therapy, listed above, may not be mutually exclusive of the other. Making use of many different therapies like taking a walk in nature, meditating, having regular massages and speaking grief to a therapist may be what is needed in your case.  There are no prescribed answers routes to navigating grief  It is more about staying close to our own experience and then discerning which is the best route for you.