Saturday, November 1, 2014

Giving Counselling Another Go


This week I tried counselling again. I am a strong advocate of therapy - not just giving it a go but, if it doesn't feel right, trying another psychologist and another until you’ve found the right fit.  I’ve had mixed success in the past but recently I decided to practice what I preach and try again.

I’m so glad I did.  One year, three months and six days after my husband’s unexpected suicide, I finally feel like someone might be able to help me find the tools I need to process the trauma of that experience.

To explain how many attempts it took me to find this fit, this was my FIFTH go with a new counsellor.  My first took place the very day after Dan died, when my best friend arranged a visit to a psychologist she found through her work’s employee assistance program.  This woman just stared at me in shock as I told her what had happened the day before.  When I finally asked her if she had any advice on how I might survive this nightmare, she feebly explained the stages of grief (failing to mention they are NOT linear!) and said I would probably feel better in a year. Wrong. I didn’t go back to see her.

In the following months I tried two others.  One of whom was fresh out of university and tried different exercises with me like ‘cognitive behavioural therapy’, which is a great tool, but way too early for me when I was still so deeply in shock and trying to make it through one day at a time. I battled on with her making me feel like I was failing her as a test case until I met counsellor number three, who ran a suicide bereavement program through a wonderful charity here in Australia called Lifeline. 

This experience was life changing and helped me to understand Dan’s illness and death in a way that brought a real sense of acceptance.  For the first time I felt like Dan’s suicide wasn’t about me or due to anything I did or didn’t do.  I also understood that it wasn’t necessarily because of anything Dan did or didn’t do - he was sick, he had a disease and he died.

I would have loved to keep meeting with this counsellor after the completion of the program but due to budget restrictions she wasn’t able to offer ongoing sessions.  However she referred me to psychologist number four, who I started seeing earlier this year. 

These sessions were good, I was able to get a lot of thoughts off my chest and it was a great outlet to vent, however I wasn’t sure if I was ‘improving’ in any way.  I always walked out feeling a bit lighter, but the same thoughts would eventually creep in.  Until one day when she asked if I was sure I wanted another appointment, because she thought I was doing so well that maybe I didn’t need counselling any more.  Well that threw me!  Was I ‘cured’?  Was I boring her or wasting her time, sitting here moaning about how I missed Dan? I mean, I knew I was functioning well, I go to work, spend time with friends, go on holidays, etc, but I’m still deeply grieving and have regular moments of being confused and overwhelmed.  So I figured maybe I didn’t need counselling any more and stopped going.

Until two months ago, a new doctor that I’d found closer to my work suggested I give it another go.  I knew I still had a lot of work to do.  I cry often, I have days where I don’t want to participate in the world and the emptiness is deep.  I have flash backs and haunting questions and reoccurring doubts and guilt but, after that last experience, I wasn’t sure if I needed more counselling or if I just needed more time. 

So that brings me back to this week.  After a particularly tough few days I thought I’d give it another shot.  I called the office on Monday and they happened to have an available appointment Thursday afternoon.  I went in and re-told the horrible story about the day he died, the months leading up to it, our love story and what my life has been like since.  As much as it was painful to re-live the finer details of his death, there was a release again, as I sat and sobbed in this stranger’s comfortable chair. 

When I finally stopped talking, I looked at her through my tear-stained eyes and said, ‘Is this normal?  Is there something wrong with me?’.  Her reply was just what I needed to hear.  While confirming that there was nothing ‘wrong’ about where I am at the moment, she explained that my brain has definitely been affected by the shock of what I’ve been through.  She said after such a significant trauma, my understanding of how the world works would have been shattered - causing me to lose trust in logic and ‘right and wrong’.  The good news was that there is work we can do to help calm my racing mind, rebuild that trust and help me long-term.   

My relief was overwhelming.  First of all, to have someone say something other than ‘you’re so strong, you’re doing so well’ and actually acknowledge that there’s a reason I still don’t feel ok was so validating.  Secondly, to hear that there is actually help – that there are things I can actively do to process the pain in my heart and the mess in my head, rather than JUST sitting and waiting (which still plays a significant part in the healing process) was also wonderful.

I’m glad I gave it another shot and tried again to find the ‘right’ counsellor for my particular, unique little bundle of grief.  Maybe this will be the long-term counsellor relationship I’m looking for.  Or maybe again I’ll find out that it’s not quite the best fit.  If it doesn’t work out, I am going to come back and read this post and remind myself again that it’s worth it to keep looking.  


  1. Rebecca, I'm very new to this forum and yours is among the first posts I've read here. The trauma you are trying to process is so great, it's wonderful that you keep looking for guidance and support from those trained to provide it, despite the difficulty of telling and thereby reliving the trauma. Because of the trauma associated with my beloved's death I went to a major city university this year and followed their "complicated grief" therapy protocol, still considered somewhat controversial in the psychiatric field as I gather. The program director did extensive diagnostic testing before accepting my application, wanting to be sure that I really did have treatable issues, and taking care to not turn normal grief and grieving into a psychological illness. Part of her findings from my testing included Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder which stemmed in a great part from my witnessing my soulmate husband's sudden death in our bed without any prior warning, coupled with the "out of the blue" nature of my loss, and our having lived and worked in deepest love together 24/7 for twenty + years. It's been a hell of a ride since that night not quite two years ago. I can only imagine your own personal experiences as even more acutely traumatic. I hope you find some pride in your having continued to search for the help and support you need, and I hope you find it here, with this counselor. If it's not here, it's somewhere. You're inspiring. Thank you for writing this part of your story. Pat (not sure what all these profiles and IDs are that I get to choose among to comment, but wanting to share my name.)

  2. dear Rebecca, I hope your new therapist turns out to be a perfect fit; and good for you for being able to recognize that you needed something more than you were receiving before. after nearly a year with my former therapist, my widows' group was discussing various therapy experiences. it was then that a subject I had thought about many times, PTSD, came up and several women shared their stories with having had the therapy. I had also asked my former therapist if she treated PTSD - and got a simple, "no", with nothing further, no offer to refer me, even though my story was rife with PTSD symptoms which she was well aware of. thankfully, I did get a referral from a widow in our group and have seen my new therapist 4 times - in the first 45 min. session, I felt more validated, heard, and received more support and understanding than I had in over an entire year. I am so hopeful it will help me, especially with the awful flash backs, the anxiety and panic attacks. I will soon begin treatment with EMDR, which is the most widely accepted and utilized modality for those who suffer trauma and it's after affects.

    and yes, self-care demands we not be satisfied unless we are SURE that our needs are being met. it's not been easy for me when I have felt so vulnerable, and also like I am losing my mind these last 18 months - I think we have a propensity to doubt ourselves and wonder WHAT'S WRONG WITH ME??? thank you so much for this post. I hope you continue to feel validated and encouraged that you are on the right path. I am so relieved for you!

    much love,

    Karen xoxox

  3. Thanks for sharing your journey through counselling with me. I, too, have had loads of counsellors, in the past, and went to my first appointment last week with a jaded view. I was all prepared to get some young thing that was fresh out of Uni, and I was prepared to walk out if I did. But the one I got seems well versed, in command, and has lived a little bit. I only get 6 sessions, through my work, but maybe we could negotiate some more through my employer. We'll see how it goes. I am sure that widowhood through suicide carries its own dynamics and pain. I hope you get what you need from her to help you find your way. xx