Widower Wednesday: Grief Counseling


An emailer writes:

My [widower] boyfriend has a lot of feelings of anger/guilt/frustration/sadness that surfaces now a little more frequently than it did in the beginning of our relationship. I'm realizing he may not be ready for a relationship, sadly, just yet. However, in general, I do believe he could greatly benefit from grief counseling/therapy. I've mentioned this idea to him a couple times (as have many people), and he seems resistant to it. My question: is it a bad idea to continue to push this idea?

Don’t push it. Sending someone to grief counseling who doesn’t want to go is just as effective as a sending a drug or alcohol addict who hasn’t hit bottom to rehab. In order for any kind of counseling to even be remotely effective the person has to be willing to accept help. If your boyfriend doesn’t want it, pushing it is only going to make him resent you and others who are suggesting it.

I’m not a big fan of grief counseling. I think it’s been oversold as a solution to those who have lost a loved one. The loss of a spouse doesn’t make you a victim who requires professional help. Most people can work through the loss of their spouse without the help of a professional. Most people are better off without it.

From what I’ve read 6 to 12 months after a loss of a loved one, most people are doing just fine. Only 10% of widows/widowers will need some sort of grief counseling and generally they’re the ones who are still grieving after a year after their spouse passed.

There’s a new book by journalist Ruth Davis Konigsberg called The Truth About Grief: The Myth of the Five Stages and The New Science of Loss. Though I haven’t had the time to read it yet, Annie has read it and written a great summary of the book on her blog.  From what I’ve read on her blog and elsewhere, it seems to mirror my own conclusions from 2005 that grief counseling doesn’t benefit most people and it could be holding some people back from moving on.

Update: A reader, Ted, sent a link from a recent Time magainze article by Kongsberg. It's a good read. An excerpt:

Our modern, atomized society had been stripped of religious faith and ritual and no longer provided adequate support for the bereaved. And so a new belief system — call it the American Way of Grief — rose up to help organize the experience. As this system grew more firmly established, it allowed for less variation in how to handle the pain of loss. So while conventions for mourning, such as wearing black armbands or using black-bordered stationery, have all but disappeared, they have been replaced by conventions for grief, which are arguably more restrictive in that they dictate not what a person wears or does in public but his or her inner emotional state. Take, for example, the prevailing notion that you must give voice to your loss or else it will fester. "Telling your story often and in detail is primal to the grieving process," Kübler-Ross advised in her final book, On Grief and Grieving, which was published in 2005, a year after her death. "You must get it out. Grief must be witnessed to be healed." This mandate borrows from the psychotherapeutic principle of catharsis, which gives it an empirical gloss, when in fact there is little evidence that "telling your story" helps alleviate suffering.