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Why GRIEF counselling…. and even most GRIEF coaching…doesn’t work.

Why GRIEF counselling…. and even most GRIEF coaching…doesn’t work.

That might sound like a provocative statement…..but I can only share what my consistent experience and observation has been.

Before I developed the process I now take people through, I too sought counselling (from psychologists) and coaching (from life coaches) to help me with the pain I was in over all the deaths in my family.  I have also met and follow a lot of counsellors and coaches in this field. And most are really not all that effective…at least not in bringing healing or permanent positive change.

Here is why:

Think of your pain around a death as being toothache.  Not in a rotten, decaying, get-rid-of-it type of way.  But in the way that it is a pain.  A deep, deep pain in you.  Not like a sore tummy that might be better by the afternoon, but like a much more profound pain that won’t just disappear or miraculously get better for you.  A constant ache.

The counsellor……

So you take your toothache to the toothache counsellor.  The toothache counsellor talks to you about your pain.  They believe it will never totally leave you but will gradually fade over time, so the answer is to talk about it.  So you tell them how much it hurts. And they listen to how much it hurts and understand how much it hurts. And it feels good to be able to talk about how much it hurts and have someone listen and understand.  Then you go away and come back next week to tell them how much it hurts now.

Outcome: you get used to the toothache over time, but it still hurts. Eventually, without planning it, to avoid the toothache which is so very painful (and has become a bit all-consuming) you stop chewing on that tooth, because every time you do it hurts and that’s just not practical for you.  (This is the same way in G.R.I.E.F that as your hurt continues as it is, eventually your brain will say ‘this aint working’ and start blocking out more and more memories of the person you’ve lost…and not just the bad ones… it’s often in thinking about them that you experience the pain).

The coach…..

OR you might go to the toothache coach. The coach is not interested in dwelling on your toothache (though they don’t really expect it to totally go away either) as they understand that single-minded focus on your pain is not all that great for you. So they draw you away from focusing on the pain by helping you to focus on other parts of your life. You get clear on what you want to achieve, what you want to do in your life, even using your toothache pain in your life to create good and to give you strength. And this can be a more useful approach for you.

Outcome: you feel somewhat better, more aware of the bigger picture (because the toothache isn’t all you are), more inspired by your life and the people in it.  Mostly. Because the toothache is still there.  And in the quiet times, in the stillness (if you actually stop long enough to allow any) you will feel the toothache.  And it will hurt.

Because neither of these people have actually touched the tooth or tried to take the toothache out of it.  A lot of them still have their own toothache going on and actually don’t even know that something can be done about it.

The answer…..

The answer is not to focus on the toothache.  Nor is the answer to ignore the toothache.  The answer is to go to the dentist and have him/her fix the toothache – really get into the tooth and change it so the tooth doesn’t hurt you the same way anymore.  Because this tooth was never meant to hurt like this.  And all the while the poor little tooth isn’t being respected the best way it could. Because it never wanted you to focus on all the pain the ache from it is causing. And it never wanted to be ignored.  Really it wanted you to sort out the toothache so it can stay where it belonged, in your mouth, without hurting you in any way, playing the same role it always did for you – whether you could see it or not.

Counselling for GRIEF can feel cathartic but more often than not keeps you stuck. The counselling/therapy model around GRIEF does not promote (nor really believe in) true healing.

Most coaching for GRIEFcan feel ( and often is) much more useful as it draws you out of your pain to reclaim your life…..but rarely is it designed to actually profoundly change, let alone completely heal, the pain you are in.

Until the work is put in to get into the pain and do something very different with it, you will not be able to heal completely from it.  And yes, healing completely and being able to talk about, remember, and love the person you’ve lost without it hurting at all is a very real possibility for you… matter what any counsellor or coach has told you.

Feel free to share your thoughts below.  I always love to hear from you.




Marie Ennis-O'Connor (@JBBC) January 16, 2012 at 9:59 am

This is so interesting Kristie and really made me think some more about the process. I have just started grief counseling following the death of my Mum, so what you say really makes a lot of sense to me. I am not quite sure how to do something different with the grief though, so I hope this is something you might address in future posts?

Kelly January 16, 2012 at 3:11 pm

Mmmm…. thanks for “recieving” my email Kristie 😉

Kristie West January 16, 2012 at 4:51 pm

Hiya Marie,

Some of the steps of my process come through in my writing though it can be difficult to explain them thoroughly enough to be used in a simple blog.
This blog gives you an exercise which is one of the first steps in my process which, done properly, can be very profound on its own.

My book will be out in the next couple of months which will outline my process. Of course the fast track and most effective way through this is to work with me and go through my process, which we can chat about any time you like.
Also this year I will be planning things like group sessions, webinars etc to make my process more accessible. There are and will be a few different options there for you.


Kristie West January 16, 2012 at 4:57 pm

Haha welcome Kelly, thank you for your email. Replying to it right after this! You are totally in line with what I am saying and I am very excited about potentially working together. Watch this space. 😉

Fi Ivin January 16, 2012 at 6:35 pm

Beautifully written in a way that made complete sense Kristie. I enjoy your honesty and insightfully incisive thinking! I think you are right. There is much latent stuff that gets buried as we move forward (and it’s great to move forward) but the notion of complete healing is rarely expected and maybe even less rarely experienced. I wonder too how many are prepared to give at an emotional level, all that it takes to experience that healing but will instead put up with the dull, continuous pain of the toothache instead?

Shirley January 16, 2012 at 10:21 pm

What a profound topic, and one worth a thorough examination. I agree that the most useful counseling is focused on helping us move forward. Perhaps the older model of grief counseling came from a era when we were considered more repressed. Yet in my opinion I no longer think that’s true – in fact I’ve seen people dwell on loss to the point where it becomes a disability. Because of the dead, they feel they are excused from life and all of its obligations.

Of course, these are extreme examples – most of us fall somewhere in between. I agree that the best counseling helps us keep everything in context – remembering those we’ve lost, and learning how to honor them by making the most of our own precious lives.

Charles Cowling January 17, 2012 at 7:59 am

Very interesting analogy. I like your ‘get real’ approach. Lots to think about here. Thanks.

Kristie West January 17, 2012 at 11:42 am

Hi Fi!

The reason lots of people are prepared to ‘put up with’ the pain is not really about putting up with the pain. It’s all about the beliefs about grief being a permanent thing that you have to deal with and beliefs about it being right and better to grieve, and beliefs about the repercussions of not being in grief i.e. “if I let go of the pain I let go of them” or “if I don’t hurt I have nothing left” or “it’s wrong not to be in pain”.
Unfortunately because death is still treated as such a taboo area, people don’t ask the logical, practical questions about it that they would ask about other things – they just take for granted that it is what it is.
The times, however, they are a-changin’. 🙂


Kristie West January 17, 2012 at 11:45 am

Hi Shirley,
thank for your comment!
I like your suggestion “that the best counseling helps us keep everything in context – remembering those we’ve lost, and learning how to honor them by making the most of our own precious lives” and would just add one thing into it – that it must get in and deal directly with the grief (the toothache) to have any real, profound affect. It is when the meaning of and perception of the loss changes that true healing can occur, and not without that. Otherwise it is still all in there buried somewhere.


Kristie West January 17, 2012 at 11:46 am

Thanks for your comment Charles. So looking forward to hearing you speak and finally meeting you next weekend! Really enjoying your book.


Bob Maddon February 26, 2012 at 8:44 pm

So is this Grief Counselling for women only? Looks like it.

Kristie West February 27, 2012 at 1:23 pm

Hi Bob,

do you mean is my work just for women? Nope…I work with both men and women – probably pretty close to half and half.

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Leo September 7, 2013 at 4:35 pm

Hi Kristie

I completely agree with you about the possibility of complete freedom from the pain of grief. I still remember the shock when I discovered that CRUSE state “you cannot recover from grief, you can only learn to live with it”.

At first I read it in an email and thought it must be a mistake. But then a facilitator in one of their workshops said exactly the same thing. And as far as I’ve been able to discover this view is prevalent across pretty much the spectrum of counselling and coaching.

How awful to be putting these lies into the minds of people when they are at one of the most vulnerable stages of their lives. But it’s only done out of misunderstanding. As Jesus is quoted as saying, “Forgive them for they know not what they do”.

As you say, the times are changing and it does feel good to be offering people the way to complete freedom from their suffering.

with kindness,


Kristie West September 19, 2013 at 4:59 am

Hi Leo,

you know you are a total breath of fresh air to me! I love having you on the same path.


Barbara E Jones August 27, 2014 at 2:09 am

Kristie, In many ways, I agree with your point. The point where grief is often treated from the wrong approach. BUT no one can “fix” your pain for you. It is not a tooth or another body part to be “fixed”. It is a shift in your entire reality, in everything you once held as true. As a widow, I know this first hand. Healing must come from within yourself, with the proper guidance from whatever resource works for you. For me it was Christina Rasmussen and Life Coaching (after seeing a Grief Therapist). She has become a dear friend and mentor to me.
I think your intentions are well meant, but if I had read your article before trying coaching, I would still be in bed mourning my 46 year old husband. Grief is part of me- loss has changed me and it has been woven into the fabric of the new me- the widowed me. The now stronger me. You cannot operate and remove it from me as it is part of the new whole. You cannot remove the grief any more than you could remove the love my husband an I shared. Please, consider what you are advising before you advise it. Recommending your own point of view at the detriment of another’s is neither healthy not often accurate.
I wish you well. Your message made me think. I hope mine does the same for you. Sincerely, Barbara E Jones

Kristie West August 27, 2014 at 6:39 am

Hi Barbara,
I appreciate that many people do not believe it is possible to heal from grief totally and instead believe they must either learn to live with it or, at best, move forward in an empowering way folding their grief into themselves and letting that pain be part of them, believing it to equate to love, to memory, or to connection (even though in reality it is none of these). I am glad for you that you found what you were looking for in Cristina Rasmussen’s work, of which I am familiar.
But no, I will absolutely not stop telling people that they can be grief-free. Because it is true. I know this because I wasn’t happy to settle for what you describe in my own life…and now live totally grief-free. I know many others who do the same and have worked with many clients who are now grief-free too. Many of them, like yourself, had a spouse die. For those who want to settle for less that is fine…but for the sake of those who want more I will never stop letting them know it is possible , as long as they are willing and prepared to do the work involved. Especially because at present there are too few of us sharing this truth.
Here is a blog on exactly that topic –

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