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The views and opinions expressed in our blog series are those of the authors and are not necessarily supported by CareSearch, Flinders University and/or the Australian Government Department of Health.
The 21st Century has exposed us to vast stories of loss and grief affecting many people in communities worldwide. The upsurge of these catastrophic events has altered the way we view the world and the way we relate to others in our communities. Often distressing events intrinsically motivate us to seek support via our own networks of family, friends and community; ultimately in times of crises we are reliant on one another for comfort as we continue to grieve individually and collectively. However, sometimes people turn inwards to grieve and support from the community is ignored. Recognising different grieving styles is imperative in grief therapy and explored herein.
Feelings of grief are very subjective, different people will be affected in different ways, we must examine the impact of grief by assessing the severity of the loss and by delving into people’s grief journeys by looking at past trauma histories, coping mechanisms and their capacities to reach out in times of despair and confusion. In exploring the world of grief and loss we must be familiar with the way people grieve in order to work with them. Issues surrounding gender and working with young people are just two examples of this.
When working in communities it is imperative that we are cognisant that a ‘one size model fits all’ approach is non-applicable. Our goal is to support the grieving community by enabling them to recognise that they are the ‘experts’ of their grief. Therefore, it is crucial for professionals to be eclectic in their approach by respecting the needs of the community members and by expanding their ‘therapeutic tool box’ to meet these needs.
When examining the impact of loss and grief on communities it is crucial for practitioners to be transparent about professional roles and capacity in re-building communities. Respecting the culture and people of the established community is vital. Discussions must be held with all members of the community to ensure the safe delivery of service without overstepping boundaries and creating more angst to an already fractured community. Psychoeducation on the processes of grief, loss and trauma can be an effective tool when working with larger groups of people. Normalising the reactions of people’s grief is very empowering and helps them have a better understanding of the biopsychosocial impacts of loss in their lives. Presenting people with grief literature is a very powerful tool, an example of this can be seen on the Therapist Aid website: Grief Psychoeducation.
In times of tragedy the role of social workers and other allied health practitioners is critical to the recovery process. The emotional impact of grief creates an extra layer of complexity; resources may be scarce due to people living in remote, rural parts of the country. Thus, technology and the role of social media can help those feeling alienated in their grief to connect with others in the privacy of their own homes. Online support has thrived over the years with professionals recognising the need to create ‘online community forums’ to reach out to people who are limited in their resources and ability to seek face-to-face counselling.
Websites like Robert Neimeyer’s ‘After Talk’ encourages a safe environment for people to access support and to interact with others experiencing the pangs of grief and loss. Online support is a beneficial way for people to gain access to other grieving people whilst creating an online community of mourners who are available to them instantaneously.
To further read on the benefits of online support please refer to the web links below:
To end, communities are their own wealth of knowledge and our role in supporting them extends beyond the counselling realms. We can help people create rituals or places of ‘public mourning’ to help community members to engage with one another whilst validating the collective need to mourn. Our objective is to bring people together in recognising the importance of communal grief by strengthening communities and enabling people to ‘reach out’ by utilising what is already established around them – their very own network of community and supports.