Most of us might think of a counselling session as being ‘just talking’. However, sometimes this might not be that easy – after all, the reason people come to counselling is because something is bothering them, and they may not find it that easy to talk about. In particular, bereavement is a very specific life event. Death can be hard to understand, and hard to accept.
We tend not to talk to each other about death – someone who is bereaved might be avoided by other people, or the bereavement may just not be talked about – as if the sad feelings will just ‘go away’ if we ignore that a death has happened. We tend to try to get on with our lives, and act ‘normally’. Those around us may also try to do the same thing. Consequently, talking about death in a counselling session may not be that easy either.
Counselling is also not for everyone. Some of us may find that we have enough support from those around us, or that we can work through our grief on our own. However, talking to someone you don’t know – such as a counsellor, can be useful … family and friends may also be affected by the loss that you are grieving, and they may be dealing with their grief in a different way from how you are dealing with it. They may wish to talk more, or less, than you do about the loss.
You may be grieving the loss more than those around you, or they may be grieving more than you are, and it may actually be upsetting you that you are not feeling the same way as they are. We are all different, we all respond to death in different ways, and the relationship we had with the animal (or person) that has died, will be different to the relationship that other people had with them. Whilst you may find it easier talking about your grief to someone who also knew the animal (or person) who has died, if you don’t find it easy and wish to talk to someone else, then there are many agencies who offer counselling support, for example:
What to expect in a counselling session
I am a qualified counsellor, registered with the British Association for Counsellors and Psychotherapists, and am bound by their Ethical Framework.
Everything you say in a counselling session will be confidential, unless I feel there is a risk to the safety of yourself or others. In such a case I would discuss this with you, because I would be obliged to try to keep you or the person or animal concerned safe, which might mean contacting other agencies if necessary.
Whilst I am a trained and experienced counsellor, and whilst I focus on pet bereavement counselling, there may be issues that you bring for which other charities or organisations might offer more specialist help and support than I can. In this case, I might suggest you or I contact them regarding you obtaining support from them.
Each session is time limited to one hour. This can potentially be difficult, especially if you are getting into a flow of thought as the session is nearing its end. I will therefore try to help us end the session by letting you know that we have about 10, and then 5 minutes left.
If you have not been referred to me via an agency which has taken payment beforehand, I do ask for payment to be made to me at the start of the session, as I have found that this gets it out of the way, and we can focus on the session, and not have to think about it at the end, when you may perhaps have gone into depth exploring your thoughts, and may need some quiet time after the session.
After that, if you are happy with the above points, then we can start to explore how you are feeling. You may find it easy to talk about this, and be ready to get going, or you may be struggling to work out how you are feeling, not knowing where to start. Or, you may wish to sit in silence. Any of that is OK.
If you want to talk, but can’t start, there are other things we can do rather than talk …
Mood prompts: as human beings, with complex emotions, mood prompts can be useful to help work out what emotions we are feeling about a situation, as well as being useful as a starting point for talking – for example:
Symbols: we can use everyday objects such as a collection of feathers, buttons, different coloured pens, or plastic animals to represent different people in our family, work environment, or other relevant social group.
We can say for example: imagine that this group of buttons or feathers represents the people in your family:
- pick one that represents you
- pick one to represent each of the key people in your family, who had a relationship with the animal you have lost
From the buttons or feathers that you have selected, we can then discuss the details of each one to determine why you feel it represents the animal or person you have chosen for it. On a basic level, we generally associate certain colours with certain emotions or states, such as red being fiery or hot headed. Blue tends to represent peace, calmness, or sadness etc …
However, the colours may well mean different things for you … We can also note the size of each button or feather chosen – eg. ‘I note that the one you have chosen to be your sister or brother is a different shape to the other ones you have chosen – why is this ?’
In this way we can talk about the issue in question indirectly by abstracting it into symbols, which can be a very useful way of exploring a difficult situation.
Pen and paper:
We can also use coloured pens, crayons, pencil or simple ball point pen to:
- – draw pictures, for example of ourselves with our family, friends, pets or work environment – stick people are fine, you do not need to be a great artist
- – use specific counselling paper exercises, to help explore the specific aspects about a relationship you had with the animal you have lost
- – discuss ‘miracle’ questions, such as, ‘if you could wake up tomorrow and one thing would have changed, what would it be ?‘
Alternatively, you may just want to sit in silence. You may want to use the time to not think of anything in particular, to get away from everything else or everyone else, and just sit down and ‘do nothing’.
Angela Fletcher Bereavement Counselling