By Diane Louise, MA, IMF Registered Intern #91995
Supervised by Donald W. Welch, Ph. D, LMFT, Lic. #MFC 50129
Those of us who have lost a loved one to suicide know first-hand how devastating this type of grief is. It was not a “natural” death. We were not prepared for it. It was most likely a violent death, yet there is no killer to blame, or prosecute and imprison. We experience a broad range of emotions which may include tremendous sorrow, disbelief, anger, guilt, shock, and even sometimes a sense of relief. This is by no means an exhaustive list of the feelings that we as survivors of suicide loss may experience.
Because of the unique nature of suicide grief, it is likely that the bereavement period and the work of healing will take longer than we would expect. Fortunately SOSL (Survivors of Suicide Loss, www.soslsd.org) and other organizations exist to provide support to those who are grieving a suicide death. For example, SOSL has a newsletter and several links on their website that direct people to resources for education, peer support, and weekly group meetings. Along with these resources, some people decide to seek professional counseling for additional support as they struggle with the intensity of their feelings. Survivors may be overwhelmed by grief or depression. Parents and other adults may not know how to talk to children about the death. Additionally, there may have been the traumatic experience of finding the body of the loved one who died by suicide. How does one go about choosing the right therapist at such a tender time?
A practical consideration is to be certain that the therapist has the proper credentials, including bereavement training and experience. Psychologists, Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSW), and Marriage and Family Therapists (MFT) are some of the most common types of mental health professionals in California who are qualified to treat bereaved individuals. When seeking a therapist, there are questions to first ask yourself, such as: Do I want to work with a male or female therapist? Does the therapist’s race, ethnicity, culture, or spiritual beliefs need to be the same as mine? Does it matter if the therapist is older or younger than me? Do I want to be seen for individual counseling, or as a couple or family? What are my goals for therapy?
When first calling a therapist, ask about his or her approach to treatment. Is psychotherapy (also known as “talk therapy”) the primary modality used, or does the therapist also incorporate creative expression such as art therapy, or play therapy for children? Ask about the fee schedule, and if the practice accepts insurance. One good way to find a therapist is to ask for referrals from people you know and trust. However, even then, you may or may not “click” with the therapist. It’s important to find a professional with whom you feel safe, and who provides empathy along with solid therapeutic support. When you connect with the therapist who is right for you, it is one more helpful resource to move you toward healing.