Grief Art Therapy - Grief Counseling

By Tess Thompson

Time is said to be a great healer. However, the grieving process can have a detrimental affect on the physical as well as the emotional health of the grieving individual if extended for too long. In the past, families and communities came forward to extend support for a grieving person. Today, people have little time, space or means to provide. Support is now increasingly being provided by hospice and grief counseling centers. Programs of emotional care for the terminally ill and grieving persons are now focusing on non-verbal therapeutic approaches like drawing and guided visualizations.

Sigmund Freud came up with the concept of 'grief work' in 1957, which meant that a specific job should be completed before the commencement of the next job. Since then, numerous theories have been propounded on grief, which attempt to list different stages. 12 stages or phases of grief have since been defined, ranging from denial, shock or disbelief to final acceptance and efforts to reconcile with the situation and move towards emotional wellness.

Grief theories portray a wide difference between normal grief and what is termed as complicated grief, but at the same time, there is no set pattern or a complete list of emotions that would describe the emotional responses to grief. The extent and duration of psychosomatic, emotional, and bodily distress in either condition is primarily dependent upon an individual's ability in managing emotions. Mourning must be understood as an outward expression of grief, which is a normal and universal response. Moreover, certain tasks of mourning must be completed, because incomplete grief can inhibit further growth and development of an individual.

The major challenge faced in overcoming pain during grief is loneliness. A lonely, bereaved person is at an increased risk of physical, social, and emotional problems as s/he finds it difficult to come to terms with the changed situation. It is often difficult to detach or overcome the depressive feelings that seem to engulf you. Counseling can play a very important role in overcoming grief.

Grief counseling through art therapy is finding an increasing acceptance with many counselors, as it has given good results in improving the emotional healing process. Counselors encourage mourners to bring photos or analogies to get a better understanding of the deceased person to create a solid focus for sharing. Non-verbal tools like writing letters to the deceased and making art are some of the tools used to provide an opportunity for expression of experiences with the deceased to help overcome grief.

Counseling in groups is easier, and interacting with persons facing similar situations is often helpful. When art and group therapy are combined, the effect can be very beneficial, as art provides a creative outlet and the group setting initiates a process of sharing grief with others. Interactions with those who can identify with each other's grief can be extremely comforting to participants and help in developing a positive mental attitude to get over the sadness and sorrow syndrome.


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