Life often involves change and losses and this can leave us feeling scared, hopeless, lost and stuck. For example, if you’ve been married 30 years and your spouse suddenly dies or leaves you, you may not know who you are without him. If your child is killed in a car crash without a goodbye it may be hard to know how to move forward. Perhaps you had the same job for five years and you were suddenly let go. Then there could be health issues like chronic or terminal illness, cancer, loss of control in your body or a part of your body. These are all traumatic events, a shift in your identity description and a loss of security.
It can be very hard to contend with losses and to transcend rejection and challenges. It helps to get support so you can grieve your losses, pick up the pieces, learn any relevant lessons and begin again.
Here are some topics that can be covered:
- Grief & Loss
- Accepting Change & Life’s Transitions
- Illness & Cancer
Grief & Loss
It is important to give yourself time to grieve and regroup in these situations. As a therapist, I have seen great growth derive from painful shifts like these because people are forced (over time) to expand and reinvent themselves, their role and their relationship to the world. This isn’t fun and it takes heroic strength and some faith that they will figure it out over time and things will slowly improve.
Grief and loss are often foisted upon many of us to no response of our own but we can learn to accept it and to work to make our lives whole again in ways that are under our control.
Accepting Change & Life Transitions
Even if you haven’t experienced a loss, life is often full of change and sometimes this scares us. Perhaps it’s moving to a new place, switching jobs, leaving your nuclear family or switching universities. These are just some examples of changing contexts and needing to redefine yourself and develop new supports.
Sometimes it helps to have a familiar trusted person to talk to when things are changing and you are afraid. This is a time to sort through your fears and thoughts and make choices based on what is best for you. This could include developing new resources, learning to cope with anxiety, loneliness and fear and learning to enjoy spending time with yourself as you develop this new life sphere. Therapy can help with this.
Many people go through periods of depression in their lives. Sometimes this can be genetic or a family pattern and other times it can be due to losses, self-disconnection or negative self talk. Often these clients report feelings of hopeless, lacking pleasure in activities and not having energy or a sense of meaning in their lives. This often leads to lack of sleep or excessive sleep, bouts of crying, isolation from friends and decreased ability to concentrate or enjoy things.
This is very difficult and often clients suffering from depression need a combination of validation, empathy, a safe place to feel their feelings and a behavioral plan to keep functioning, even though they don’t feel like it. Many times people who have depression want to wait to feel better to get to the gym, walk or see a friend, when often these activities would result in them feeling a bit better. So sometimes a therapist acts as a guide to help them build up baby steps including pleasurable meaningful activities that will benefit them and help them reconnect to life.
If there have been losses they need to be grieved and the therapist can help guide the client (as they are ready) to reconnect in small ways and to find meaning again.
This is a process. Although some clients may choose to consult a psychiatrist for a low dose of medication in the beginning (if they are not functioning), this is also a sign that there is a place the client can grow to understand him or herself better, learn self-soothing and kind self-talk and to reconnect to life and them self in new ways.
Illness & Cancer
Clients are understandably shaken when they’ve been healthy their whole lives and get a diagnosis of cancer or another illness that feels out of their control. Sometimes they need to grieve, express their fears, make meaning of it and over time to learn from the experience. The therapist can help them to cope, express doubt, sadness and anger and to offer tools for centering and relaxation in the midst of the stress and disorganization. The therapist can also help clients connect to resources and groups that specialize in this illness and would add value and support to their path.
Dr. Sherman went through a year with breast cancer treatment and wrote two books about how illness can be a spiritual path, if you look for new balance, coping skills, meaning and wisdom in it.