Friday, March 28, 2008

Complicated Grief Recovery Coaching

I've been reading recently about complicated grief — the kind of grief where bereaved people get stuck in their grieving, swallowed up by their feelings, and overwhelmed by their experience. Years can go by with their grief getting worse, not better. Their lives fall apart. They become like ghosts - mere shells of their former selves. This can happen for a number of reasons, including multiple losses, traumatic loss, or anger and/or fear related to their dead loved one.

Now that I've been bereaved for two years (tomorrow), I've met a number of widow/ers whom I suspect are suffering from complicated grief. I want to help them in their bereavement as well, even if it is just to point them toward a helpful reference.

In researching this topic, I stumbled upon an online grief recovery coach, Paul Roberts. While he has not suffered from the death of a spouse, he has certainly had to come to terms with multiple, tragic losses, all piled on top of each other. Like me, he quickly discovered that there is lots of room for improvement as far as grief recovery goes here in North America. After he found some new paradigms and Grief Recovery Tools, he too was able to quickly heal from his complicated grief, in his case over the course of a single month.

Paul has an online grief recovery website,, where you can sign up for free information about how to heal from complicated grief. The following article is one of a series, and you would probably find it very useful to hear the whole series in order to understand the difference between simple and complicated grief. If you would prefer to listen than read, the audio version of this article is available here:

If you're going to "solve" a serious human problem like complicated grief, you need truly useful tools.

By useful tools, I mean this:

  • First you need a good model (or theory) of what's causing the problem

  • Then you need practical strategies based on the model that actually WORK so that people feel better quickly and predictably.

After 9/11, the death of my father, the suicide of my brother, the suicide of my older daughter, the breakup of my relationship and then the death of my mother (all in less than four years) I found that none of the literature, or support groups, or professionals I worked with had a clue about how to fix me so I could be a functional adult again.

That's because most grief advice makes sense for simple grief, but doesn't make sense for complicated grief.

It was only when I looked outside of the grief recovery community that I found both a model, and the tools, that let me take back my life - in about a month of focused inner work.

So... when I share this model of human personality structure with you - and the effect complicated grief has on the human personality - please don't be confused. I'm not saying that this model is TRUE. The map is not the territory.

But I am saying that this model is USEFUL. And because it is useful, I want you to understand the model, and how I have applied the model to create an experience of grief recovery - for myself first, and also for my clients.

The Model I Use

The model I use is derived from the groundbreaking work of a psychologist and consciousness researcher named Victor Vernon Woolf. Woolf has developed a complex theory of consciousness he calls Holodynamics. It's very dense and frankly difficult to understand.

I've created a much simpler model based on his ideas that is easy to understand. When I've shared it with my clients they've understood it right away, so I'm confident you can understand it too. (As always, if you have any questions, please don't hesitate to contact me).

This model says you have a central controlling personality - your normal adult self. And supporting your normal adult self, you have a number of sub-personalities which can come to the forefront of your consciousness during different times in your life, in an appropriate way, to help you live your life.

For example, if you're a parent, one of your sub-personalities is "father" or "mother". When you're in "father" or "mother" mode you're going to think, feel and behave in a certain way in order to parent your child. You have another sub-personality called "worker" or "employee" or "boss", that thinks, feels and behaves in a different way in order to get some sort of job done in the workplace. And you have yet another sub-personality that comes to the forefront when you're engaged in intimacy with a partner.

We actually have many sub-personalities that come to the front of our consciousness, or recede to the back, depending on where we are or what's going on. One way to illustrate this is to consider the rare but very real experience of multiple personality disorder (MPD). (One famous case described a woman known as "Sybil" in both a book and a movie). Someone with MPD doesn't have a central controlling adult self. Instead, many different sub-personalities, some of them very destructive and immature - simply take over the mind in a chaotic way.

The fact is, we ALL have some sub-personalities that are immature and destructive. Said another way, we are ALL capable of childish and immature thoughts, feelings and behavior. When someone feels reasonably healthy and OK in the mind, those childish and immature sub-personalities don't run the person's life, though.

However- when someone is overwhelmed with complicated grief, that's exactly what is going on. One or more childish and immature sub-personalities has taken over the person's life. Those sub-personalities are controlling way too much of the person's consciousness. They are creating an ongoing stream of thoughts, feelings and behaviors that do not reflect a healthy adult perspective, but rather the perspective of a wounded and dysfunctional child.

Despair, overwhelming anxiety, alienation, confusion, mental fog, the feeling totally misunderstood, a loss of identity, rage, guilt, shame, or fear: In the aftermath of a loss, these kinds of thoughts and feelings can come to dominate someones life, making it into a living hell.

That is why complicated grief is so very different from simple grief. That's why people who are suffering from complicated grief don't feel like "themselves". They're not themselves!

My daughter's death was actually the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back in my own life. Coming fast on the heels of these other traumatic events, it was more than I could bear. My adult self receded into the background of my own mind - and instead my mind was dominated by a cluster of sub-personalities that had the characteristics of a child traumatized by some terrible event (like a kid coming out of the Holocaust). I was seeing the world - and life itself - through wounded child's eyes. I felt that the world was simply a terrifying place - and that new terror might emerge at any moment in some unpredictable way.

It was more than post-traumatic stress syndrome - though PSTD was certainly a part of the experience I was having. It was the experiential fact that my mind was being dominated by these wounded, dysfunctional children - these sub-personalities I could not see, much less control.

And because complicated grief doesn't just get better with time - I went through this experience for three years.

How The Model I Use Drives The Work I Do

If you're experiencing complicated grief, something similar is happening in your mind - though of course the specifics will be different than mine. The reason I took the time to describe the model I use (notice it has NOTHING to do with stages of grief) is because this model is what drives my strategy for effective grief recovery work as a grief recovery coach.

In this work, I actually lead my clients so they can get in touch with their wounded sub-personalities directly. We allow each wounded sub-personality to share it's perspectives with us. And once we have found the core need of the wounded sub-personality, we guide it through a rapid, powerful yet gentle process so that it can become transformed into a more mature version of itself.

It's truly amazing to experience. Most importantly, once a person has done this work, he or she can actually LIVE with the honest sadness over their loss, and process that sadness from the adult self, and integrate this loss into the fabric of their life experience.

The fact is, I don't heal the client. Rather, I set up an inner environment so that the client can actually heal themselves by following my coaching and directions. And it all flows out of understanding how complicated grief affects our personality structure.

Does it work? My experience is that it works better than anything else I've ever seen or heard.

In the words of one of my clients, "I was able to do in 4 sessions what may have taken years to do." Another said, "Paul's coaching took me out of the quicksand onto dry land…giving me back my power to act without the weight of my grief and losses." (To read their complete testimonials, click HERE).

Here's the bottom line: If you're suffering from complicated grief, you don't have to suffer forever.

And if you're not sure about your grief experience, but would just like to get some feedback, feel free to CONTACT ME. I'll give you honest feedback on your situation, and will respect your choice to get help or not - from me or anyone else.

My best to you,

Paul Roberts
© 2007-8 Paul Roberts. All Rights Reserved.

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