I was nervous to start my advanced field placement in the Bereavement Department as a Bereavement counseling intern. It felt intimidating to think that people were going to come to me for counseling after the death of their loved one. I knew I was prepared for the experience, but the responsibility I felt to walk along side someone experiencing such a life changing moment was very prevalent to me. My first two ongoing clients were close to my age, both having lost a mother. Sitting in counseling with their grief was emotional and powerful. As I started to take on new clients, I experienced firsthand how unique and all-encompassing grief was for my clients.
I learned so many skills and life lessons from my time at Gilchrist, counseling my clients. I learned the importance of a therapeutic relationships, especially with a male client who spent most of the beginning sessions talking about anything, but his grief. I felt like I was going nowhere, but I also didn’t want to push too much, something told me he just wasn’t ready to tell me what was really on his mind. In one session it all came out, emotions, tears, anger. I learned patience from this client, patience to remember that a client may not always be ready to open up to me and a patience to stay where they are in grief. I learned a patience that is not taught in a classroom.
I saw the importance of creating bonds between those grieving while observing the widow/widowers support group, led by two volunteers who had such compassion for those who are grieving. From this group I was encouraged to consider incorporating other counseling techniques, such as art therapy. I watched as a client who was too overwhelmed to put words together seek comfort and words through collaging. I learned from my supervisor, Heather Gould Kerr, the benefits of supervision. I experienced supervision that encouraged sharing of not only brainstorming for future client sessions, but also sharing how I am feeling and what is going on in my life.
Most importantly, I learned how to listen. I learned how to empathize with my client’s feelings, to not just hear what they were experiencing, but to try to really understand what it must feel like in their life. How to bear witness to my clients’ pain and sit in silence when they truly needed a safe place to cry. How to listen for my clients’ strengths when all they could see were weaknesses. I learned how to listen for hope in their life that the client was unable to see just yet.
Now, as I am transitioning my clients to prepare for the end of my internship, I am learning how to say goodbye. Gilchrist, my supervisor, and clients have taught me much about guiding those who are grieving through death, and also they have taught me about living. I always felt I was someone who knew how to appreciate life, someone who accepted life’s challenges and setbacks. To really learn to appreciate life, is to walk with someone who is grieving. Tonight I will hug my husband, mother, father, sister, and friends a little tighter, because at Gilchrist I had the opportunity to walk with those who are without and to learn what that meant for each and every one of them.