Grief or bereavement therapy with a professional counsellor can be very helpful after the death of a loved one, but it is not for everyone. Alternative grief therapy can allow you to understand and express your feelings at a slower pace in a way that works for you.
What is alternative grief therapy?
Alternative grief therapy is simply the practice of any activity, such as creative or outdoor pursuits, that is focused on exploring and expressing feelings of grief after the death of your loved one in a supportive environment.
Where can you get alternative grief therapy?
If you find photography or painting helpful you can do that yourself or as part of a local club, but there are many professional therapists who are qualified to help you explore your feelings while you are doing the activity. This might be better if you are struggling to cope with traumatic or complex grief.
Creating art can be a way to literally draw out grief and try and make sense of complicated feelings and emotions, by putting pen or brush to paper, or working with clay. You don’t have to be experienced, skilled or accomplished to give art therapy a go and it may help you through the grief process when you have suffered a bereavement.
Formal art therapy is a recognised form of psychotherapy, rather than a recreational hobby, although you may enjoy the process of painting, drawing or making. This kind of grief therapy session is led by therapists who use art as a way to identify and address the emotional issues of participants, who are encouraged to explore the thoughts and emotions behind the object or image they’ve created.
Some recreational arts spaces offer one-off group workshops incorporating mindfulness techniques that may be less intense than a therapy session. These could inspire you to consider art as a personal form of bereavement therapy, or to pursue as a creative hobby for the sense of pleasure and wellbeing it gives you after the loss of a loved one.
Grief can trigger all sorts of complicated emotions, and it’s not uncommon for a bereavement to be at the heart of worries that come to surface and overwhelm us later on in our lives.
It can be good to talk, but difficult to know where to begin, especially if you find the idea of a visiting a counsellor in a clinical environment daunting. walking therapy, or walk and talk therapy, with a qualified therapist in an open outdoor environment, can help alleviate some of the inhibitions that may hold us back from talking in a more formal setting.
You can also literally set your own pace, from a contemplative walk at gentle speed, to an energetic session. Walk and Talk Therapy can be a helpful way to for people who have been bereaved to begin the healing process. Outdoor activities can also be beneficial for your emotional and physical wellbeing.
Bereavement charities sometimes offer more informal peer-to-peer walking and talking groups, which may be an option if you’d prefer to connect socially with other people who have lost a loved one.
There’s a practical side to cooking therapy for anyone who has been bereaved, but finds themselves at a loss in the kitchen when a loved one dies.
Eating well is always important, but especially when you’re feeling low and vulnerable through grief. It can be easy to fall into self-neglect when you are grieving, or ditch regular meals for packet snacks and fast food, if you simply don’t know where to begin when it comes to cooking a meal.
Cooking and baking are often used as a form of occupational therapy, while some hospices and projects offer cooking classes to individuals and families. These not only help them to learn the culinary skills to produce healthy meals, but bring participants together to share good food and talk at the end of every session.
In the U.S., New York grief and bereavement specialist Peter Gevisser has developed Cooking and Remembering Workshops, aimed at bringing strangers together to cook, while sharing stories about their loved one, no matter how long ago their bereavement.
Baking can be a more leisurely activity than preparing a meal and perhaps a less daunting prospect. Community centre workshops are a good place for beginners to learn cooking or baking skills.
If you are a member of a bereavement group or circle of friends who’ve lost a loved one, why not organise your own bake, lunch or supper club? Talk and share while you prepare and enjoy a meal in good company.
It’s hard to imagine laughter in your life when you are in the raw stages of grief, but laughter therapy may be healing for those adjusting to the loss of a loved one over a longer period of time.
This alternative therapy is based around the theory that deep belly laughs have many health benefits, including reducing stress levels and anxiety, generating feel-good endorphins and releasing pent-up emotions, as well as being a way to get aerobic exercise. Laughter yoga sessions are usually held in groups and often outdoors.
They say that laughter’s the best medicine and the idea is that the body can’t tell the difference between faked laughter and the genuine thing. Laughter yoga sessions are usually based around a series of breathing and laughter exercises, with classes ranging in duration from 30 minutes to three hours.
Exercises during the class aim to turn laughter from simulated giggles into natural, pleasurable laughter. Between laughs, participants regain their breath with some deep-breathing exercises and sessions usually end with relaxation techniques to wind down.
People of all ages and abilities can take part in these gentle holistic workshops, which could benefit your emotional and physical wellbeing as you recalibrate your life following a loved one’s death.
Putting pen to paper is one way to explore the emotions and themes that come out of a talking therapy session.
Some counsellors recommend clients ‘journalise’ their thoughts as a way of processing in between therapy sessions and encourage the use of poetry, or even adapting those feelings into fiction or fairy tales.
A grief journal may also be something you prefer to work on by yourself. In the raw stages of grief, a grief journal can be a valuable place to express words of sadness, anger or disbelief. It can be a good idea to date each entry, so you can refer back to how far you have come.
To help you focus, you may find it helpful to set yourself a time limit on each diary entry and set yourself exercises – putting down three or four single words, for instance, that sum up your feelings at that moment. Or write a short descriptive passage, recalling a special moment that meant so much with the loved one you miss; the colours, the sights, the sounds.
A grief journal could be a space for you to be creative and convey your thoughts and memories in poetry. And it may also be a space for you to compile lists of practical tasks and personal goals to work through.
The death of someone close to you, or the realisation that someone does not have much time left, can be the impetus for some people to talk about their memories and compile their life story as a family legacy. This can be a wonderful way to remember someone’s life and how they lived it, while the writing itself can help focus the mind.
Creative writing courses and retreats can be a great way to find inspiration and motivation, as well as learning new skills. Creative writing groups tend to be supportive company to be a part of, which can be comforting, reassuring and may boost your confidence. You may even find reading some of your written words aloud to others is cathartic and fulfilling.