Grief Coaching is a model for Life Coaching was developed to help people who have experienced the tragic death of a loved one. The coach works with all kinds of bereaved people but specializes in helping those who have experienced a traumatic death (a death caused by a person, misfortune, catastrophe, or acute affliction, such as suicide, homicide, accidental injury, medical emergency, or natural disaster).
Grief Coaching was created from the idea that many people who have suffered a traumatic death can benefit from focused one-on-one helping sessions facilitated by a skilled and compassionate coach who assists the bereaved person by employing peer support, heartfelt dialogue, and exploration of the unique meaning of the loss for the individual. The straightforward practices applied in this approach to helping people cope with grief are based on principles related to the following:
- Each person’s uniqueness
- Peer support
- Meaning making
An essential feature of Grief Coaching is the degree to which the interactions between the coach and the bereaved person are “customized” according to each unique person’sexperiences, needs, capabilities, and intentions.
The approach is based on the practice of “bearing witness,” which requires that the coach “understand that they themselves are the ‘student’ and the client is the ‘teacher’ about the client’s own experience.”
Because every person is unique and the relationship between the coach and client develops dynamically and naturally through the course of their interactions, each individual garners different benefits from Grief Coaching. Examples include a person being better able to:
- Deal with life in the face of loss and pain
- Cope with intense emotions
- Handle family and social relations
- Understand what roles the deceased played in his or her life
- Find meaning in what has happened
- Define his or her ongoing relationship with the person who died
- Memorialize the loved one
- Look toward the future
Compassionis practiced in helping sessions through the coach …
- genuinely sympathizing with the bereaved person’s situation;
- empathically embracing the person’s sorrow;
- identifying with the sense of tragedy inherent in the loss; and being hopeful about the transformation of the person’s suffering.
Peer support“is a system of giving and receiving help founded on … respect, shared responsibility, and mutual agreement of what is helpful.” The coach engages constructively with the bereaved person by relying on characteristics of peer support that have been proven to be effective, including:
- Experiential knowledge, which comes from the coach’s own grief journey.
- Trust, which is built through honesty, unselfishness, and reliability.
- Confidentiality, which creates a safe space for the bereaved person to share his or her thoughts and feelings.
- Individual connectedness, which strengthens a person’s social ties and can help decrease stress, increase psychological health, and improve coping behavior.
- Empowerment, which aids “self-efficacy, self-esteem, and the belief that positive personal change can come about through one’s own efforts”.
True dialogueis a powerful type of conversation that involves:
- Listening, which requires that the coach hear the bereaved person completely and whole-heartedly
- Respecting, which requires that the coach accept the person’s story of his or her experience as entirely valid and authentic.
- Suspending, which requires the coach to be open-minded and nonjudgmental about the person’s behavior, ideas, feelings, and beliefs (and which “involves an acceptance of and a caring for the client as a person, with permission for him to have his own feelings and experiences, and to find his own meanings in them”)
- Voicing, which requires that both the coach and the bereaved person speak in their “own voice” and from their “own authority”
Meaning makingis the process through which a bereaved person reconstructs “a world that again ‘makes sense,’ that restores a semblance of meaning, direction, and interpretability to a life that is forever transformed.”
Meanings can be explored when a bereaved person tells his or her story of loss and touches upon the changes in his or her life that are related to the loved one’s death, including changes in:
- Physical surroundings (objects, places, physical health)
- Relationships with others still living (family, personal, work, social)
- Places in time (sense of past, present, future) and space (subjective “closeness to” or “distance from” people, events, ideas) Spiritual “grounding” in the world (beliefs, purpose)
- Relationship with the deceased (love, connection)
The process of making meaning unfolds differently for every person: For some it is more literal and deliberate; for others it is more complicated and unplanned; and for almost everyone it is intuitive and unpredictable. The Grief Coaching model is designed to provide a structure, encouragement, and support to help bereaved people—each in his or her own way—to discover and embrace a “living memory” of their loved one that meets the most essential needs in their relationship with the deceased and in their personal aspirations for the future.