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The Integrated Coaching Academy

Where Coaching and Counselling Connect

Prince harry, grief and how to really help


Prince Harry has gone very public about his mental health struggles resulting from the death of his mother, Princess Diana. In Apple TV’s ‘The Me You Can’t See’ he says he ‘boxed up his emotions’ for 20 years.

It’s true; people often attempt to deal with life’s losses and traumas by disconnecting and switching off their feelings.


The ‘box-it-up’ method can work for a while, as it did for Harry, but what tends to happen over time is that the lid of the box begins to lift all on its own and the anger and despair begin to tumble out in an uncontrolled way. For Harry, the lid of the box seems to have really started to open after his marriage to Meghan and the build up to the birth of his first child created a psychological pattern match to the trauma of his mother’s death.


Harry was filmed in an EMDR session with his therapist. It seems to have really helped. I wish he could also experience the Rewind Technique which was originated by Dr David Muss in the 1970s. It can be even more effective. I did some training with David. As a newly qualified psychotherapist many years ago, I was so amazed by the successes I was having for my PTSD clients that I wrote a book about it. It works in a similar way to EMDR by grounding the client and setting a cognitive task that anchors the brain into the neo cortex. It’s less well known simply because it hasn’t attracted the research and funding of the EMDR programme originated by Francine Shapiro.


Here, an EMDR therapist gives a succinct explanation about the underlying mechanism. She says:

‘The therapy works by the therapist creating a safe and trusting space. We identify the experiences … and bring them into the room in a gentle way to reprocess those memories so the past can be in the past and our past life experiences do not continue to create stress, anxiety and triggers in our current life’


The subconscious mind


What stays in the subconscious mind has the ability to control us. Allowing suppressed emotions to safely surface can actually process long term grief in just one session... if that is what the client wants.

Sometimes, however, the bereaved just want to speak, to be allowed to explore and express their emotions in their own time and in their own way. Fortunately, a Fusion Therapeutic Coach will have the empathic attunement to understand what the client needs from their practitioner.


Yes, if they want resolution, the Rewind Technique can achieve that quickly and efficiently but if they need to talk, a Fusion Coach knows how to offer the time and space for that to happen. It’s about making the model fit the client rather than the client fit the preferred therapy style of the practitioner.


My article this week looks at suppressed grief and how the reaction to unprocessed emotions can take us by surprise many years later.


I hope it helps…


Grief and how to really help


As James sat in front of me, memory after memory of his father’s death surfaced, released, and ran softly down his face.


‘He died when I was 10’, said James. ‘It was an unexpected heart attack. He went to work one morning and didn't come home. Mum thought I was too young to go to the funeral so I went to school on that day just, like any other day.’


James's mum wasn’t being cruel. She had hoped to protect her young son from the pain of seeing her so desperately upset at the grave side. She wanted him to escape somehow the turbulent and intense range of emotions that are a part of the journey through the grieving process. So she made life as normal as possible for him. She compensated by taking him on lavish holidays, buying him the latest gadgets and putting on her ‘I'm fine’ face in the daytime.


Crying alone


She had removed all the pictures of James's father in the house and he was now rarely referred to.

The mother-who-meant-well stayed strong and kept going. She was doing a good job she told herself. After a year, James seemed fine, was doing well at school and never mentioned his father at all.

But the grief hadn’t gone away and it was only after she put James to bed at night that she allowed herself to cry. What she didn't realise was that, in bed at night, James could hear his mother crying and would often cry himself to sleep too.


Both mother and son were going through an intense range of emotions they did not want to communicate to each other, for fear of causing more upset. They had both become isolated in a shared grief for the most well-intentioned of reasons and they were making a mistake that many of us make.

I must keep going


There are plenty of laudable reasons for not dealing with grief. People have to go to work to keep their job. They have to get the kids off to school. They have to mow the lawn, do the shopping, cook and pay the bills. They think if they give way to grief, it will be like a dam has burst. They won’t be able to cope with the deluge and will drown in a flood of their own tears.


But deferring grief is like living with an undetonated bomb. We fool ourselves that if we tiptoe around it, perhaps it won’t go off.


An open wound


However the loss and grief remain as a concealed, but still-open, wound. Although we may have put a plaster over it, it will not begin to heal until we acknowledge its presence and let some light and air onto the injury.


As Prince Harry has observed, death has become a sanitised business.


We try to ignore it. We clean it up with phrases like ‘passed over’, or ‘slipped away’ rather than saying someone has died. Or we wrap it up and leave it on a shelf in a darkened room that we try not to visit.

We are taught, in the face of adversity to stand strong. We must stay in control. We have to keep a very British ‘stiff upper lip’.


But grief is not an illness. It’s a fact of life. We will all lose someone we love and we will all feel the pain. Being able to ride the intense waves of emotion that come with bereavement is an example of mind management and asking for help or talking to someone about how we really feel is a sign of emotional intelligence, not weakness.


As a therapeutic coach, I have a range of skills in my professional toolbox. But for James, as with most of my clients who are grieving, I used the simplest, yet most powerful of them all.

I listened.


Frances Masters MBACP accred GHGI


Frances Masters is a BACP accredited psychotherapist, coach, training consultant and author of the book PTSD Resolution: Reclaiming life from trauma.


In 2009, Frances founded the charity Reclaim Life; training its volunteers to work in the new, integrated coach-counselling model, Fusion.


As founding Principal of the Integrated Coaching Academy Frances gained accreditation for her training from NCFE as Customised Awards; 'The Fusion Therapeutic Coaching, Counselling and Training Diploma in Therapeutic Coaching and the distance learning programme Certificate in Therapeutic Coaching Skills'


Training programmes also include


The Integrated Coaching Academy certified Fusion Mindfulness Based Mind Management Skills Certificate

and new online training Breathe Stress Away


Fusion® Therapeutic Coaching is an approved NCFE training centre, an organisational member of he British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy and the Association for Coaching

Blog

Hold On, Pain Ends: How hope creates resilience

Posted on May 31, 2016 at 2:45 PM

One of the deepest, darkest depressions I have ever witnessed was in a young man, aged just 18, who I shall call Gareth.

 

His mother, a very worried woman, had dropped him off for his first session having outlined to me what she felt was the essence of the problem.

 

Gareth’s mental health issues began around the age of 14, when he started using drink and drugs to excess. At 16, he had spent some time in a mental health unit where he was given powerful antipsychotic medication which he felt had damaged his brain beyond repair.

 

He had dropped out of sixth form, unable to cope with the building pressures of exams and now spent most of his time in his room, often up all night, sleeping all day and only emerging to eat.

 

Gareth's energy was so depleted he had difficulty actually forming the words to tell me his story. There was a sense of sorrow and stillness around him which was almost tangible and which felt to me like grief. Even with his hood up, I could detect the haunted expression in his eyes I have witnessed before in severe depression.

 

However, when he did speak, it was clear this fragile young man was both intelligent and articulate. Halfway through the session, he leaned forward and quietly spoke the words, in a flat, emotionless voice, which made my blood run cold;

 

‘I will be dead by the age of 21’

 

‘How can you be so sure?’ I asked.

 

‘Because’ he said, ‘if I still feel like this, I will kill myself.’

 

Gareth had lost hope. When people lose hope, they consider suicide and, it was clear to me in that moment, that Gareth and I were going to have to work very hard together to make sure his dark prediction did not come true.

 

A perfect storm

 

In February 2016, figures published by the Office for National Statistics showed that youth suicides are on the increase. In 2014, 201 young people between ages of 10 and 19 killed themselves in the UK; more than 10% up on 2013.

 

It is an accepted fact that suicide is the biggest killer of people under the age of 35. Shockingly, in a recent report by the University of Manchester, it was identified that 29% of those who committed suicide, were facing exams, or exam results, and that 4 children had died on the actual day of an exam, or the day after.

 

Modern life, and our refusal as a society to deal adequately with the building stressors, is providing all the conditions for ‘a perfect storm’ in mental health and it is our children that are suffering the most.

 

The advent of 24/7 access to intrusive social media has added to the problems of peer pressure. There is an epidemic of online bullying. The traditional family structure is shifting, changing and becoming ever more complicated with single-parent families, divorce, separation and remarriage. We are seeing more and more children placed in a ‘care system’ which, on the face of it, doesn’t actually seem to care.

 

There are increasing multicultural and intercultural pressures as never before, as well as the threat from those who see a dark opportunity to radicalise and fill with hate, young people just at the point when they are trying to create their own sense of identity, meaning and purpose.

 

Growing academic pressures result in some children feeling crushed, not just by life, but by a school system which is not geared to take a holistic view of education and some of which have become what Norman Lamb worryingly described, in his 2015 mental health report, as ‘exam factories’.

 

Paradoxically, it seems the government is now criticising the very ‘tick box’ systems they have helped to create. Children and teachers need support, but they need the right kind of support; something really effective that gives the quickest benefit at the lowest cost.

 

Symptoms

 

In the classroom, children’s emotional problems can show up as low mood and lethargy, low confidence and self-esteem, or underachievement and lack of focus.

 

There may be high anxiety which tips over into aggression or bullying; and for some, even more significantly, the kind of loss of hope I saw in Gareth, which can lead to thoughts of self harm or suicide.

 

It’s not enough to simply identify the problem. We have to have a sense of the most effective solution or, better still, prevention. Endlessly fighting of forest fires is not the answer. We must manage the conditions which lead to the fires in the first place.

 

Restoring hope

 

I wondered whether, in the moment my young client expressed his intention to end his own suffering, whether he had any sense of the deeply intimate connection he made with me, not just professionally but personally.

 

His tale of ineffective NHS mental health support resonated with my own, near-fatal experience of post natal depression many years earlier. It seemed in the intervening years, nothing much had changed for the better.

 

Also, the beautiful young man sitting so sadly in front of me reminded me of my own eighteen year old son; similar in so many ways and yet so different. Having achieved successful A-levels, he was now far away in India on a gap year that would become a life changing spring board to his bright future.

 

Gareth should be on his gap year now too, I felt, not here in my office, crushed and broken by his depression and crushed too by our mental health system’s inappropriate and ineffective response to his needs, which had so cruelly robbed him of hope.

 

Psychiatrist and holocaust survivor, Viktor Frankl observed, ‘we have seen that a man can survive three weeks without food, three days without water, but barely three minutes without hope.’

 

It was clear to me, that the starting point for my work with Gareth was to begin to try and restore that hope.

 

As his energy was so low, I asked him to just close his eyes and listen as I began to teach him how to bypass the damaging thoughts present in his left brain. I would now speak directly to his right hemisphere, which understands the world in a deeper, more intuitive way. This is what I said:

 

‘Gareth, I believe there is nothing wrong with your brain. The problem is the depression which has got in the way for a while. I believe the old you, the real you, is now waiting to re-emerge, like the sun, from behind those passing clouds.

 

Your body has the amazing ability to heal if you provide the right conditions for that to happen; something you can see clear evidence of when you cut your finger and put a plaster on it. It is not the plaster which does the healing, but your body which knows how to grow new skin over old wounds.

 

And it’s good to know your amazing neuro-plastic brain can heal too. It is constantly rewiring itself, forming new neural pathways to replace old, outdated or damaged ones. That is how stroke patients are able to re learn the skills they have lost. Our brains know how to reconfigure. All we have to do, like the plaster, is provide the right conditions for that healing to happen.

 

Your amazing brain knows how to ‘time travel’ as well and, as you sit there, in your imagination, you can drift forward to a time in the future when any current difficulties are just a thing of the past, and you can look around you in that happy future life, see what it looks like and, more importantly, from that point in the future, allow yourself to look back and notice what you had to do to get you there.

 

And, while a part of you considers your bright future, another part of you can listen to a story, much as a child would listen to a story at bedtime. It’s a story about a river:

 

In a distant land, far off, a long time ago, there was a river.

 

The river was a powerful and vibrant river and served its community well. But the river knew it must go on a journey onward and towards the sea.

 

So the river set off, passing through green valleys and pastures until, one day, it came to a desert; a dry, cracked and cruel land and, try as it might, the river could not cross this desert. The river grew exhausted and called out in its frustration ‘Can no one tell me how to get past this terrible place?’

 

The sun and the wind heard the cries of the river and said ‘do not worry; you have all the resources you need. Simply allow us to help.

 

The sun shone and the wind blew and turned the river into light and fluffy clouds that were carried high into the air and which floated effortlessly across that terrible place into the safety of the mountains on the other side, where they collected as heavy raindrops into a powerful and vibrant river once more.

 

And, in this way, the river was able to continue its journey onward and towards the sea.’

 

Our journey

 

Gareth came to see me for many months as he returned to his studies and I knew things were improving when he passed his driving test and started driving himself to see me rather than being dropped off by mum.

 

Like the path of the river, our work together took many twists and turns. Sometimes I was counselling, sometimes I was coaching. Often, we were both tossed and turned by the storms created by his intense thoughts and emotions, but the waters gradually calmed and stilled.

 

In the time I was with him, I passed on to Gareth, all the skills of mind management I hoped would build a 'wall of resilience' to protect him after our work together was complete.

 

All this happened many years ago.

 

But the image of Gareth sitting on the old velvet sofa in my office, returned to me quite clearly, when he contacted me recently on LinkedIn to tell me he had just started work on his PhD in cognitive neuroscience.

 

Sometimes it just feels good to be alive.

 

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