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Dear Counsellor

Understanding our Grief

Grief is associated with a form of loss involving a change.  When a person grieves, they are attempting to adapt to the new situation in which they find themselves. For many reasons, it is not always a straightforward process. Often when we think of grief, it is associated with death. However, there are other conditions that must be considered:• Change of circumstances – e.g. loss of a job, ongoing financial problems.• Change in relationships – e.g. death of a loved one, a child growing up or moving away, divorce or separation.• Change in body – e.g. loss of limb, internal organ or persistent illness.• Change in Physiological Functioning – e.g. due to ageing, fitness deterioration, loss of mental faculties, deafness, eyesight deterioration.

It is important to understand that grief is a normal process which allows us to work through and resolve our deeply felt loss. This includes the pain and anxieties that accompanies it. A person may suffer prolonged grief if they have not been able to express it in their own way and in their own time.

The best way to support someone who is grieving is to be there for them. Allowingthe time and space for them to freely express their thoughts and emotions. It involves actively listening to the person and gently encouraging them to get in touch with their feelings and emotions.

In cases where there is unresolved grief pertaining to death. The Gestalt techniques of a letter or the empty chair have proven to be effective in resolving ‘unfinished businesses’. The person may wish to write a letter to the deceased expressing all that they want to say – this can be helpful as a way of saying goodbye. It will be entirely up to the person what they do with the letter afterwards.

They may wish to have an empty chair (imagining the person sitting in front of them) and express strong emotions such as anger or guilt. This technique is useful for those who find it difficult to express their feelings and holding strong emotions that need to release.


Milne, A (2003) Teach yourself Counselling. UK: Hodder Arnold

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