Processing Traumatic Grief

Fall TreesGrief and trauma share many aspects including intrusive thoughts, painful and intense emotions, fear of being overwhelmed, efforts to avoid reminders, feelings of hopelessness and guilt, and often reduced family and social support. Traumatic bereavement involves a complex overlay of symptoms that arise from the difficulty in moving on with the grief process due to preoccupation with the trauma and its imagery.

Informing clients about trauma and grief will normalize and understand the often overwhelming, confusing and often conflicting set of experiences in their lives. Counselling sessions may include working with intense feelings and perceptions, trauma treatments leading to trauma mastery, addressing initial tasks of grief and mourning, and finally, trauma and loss accommodation.

According to Ambrose:

The literature on grief and bereavement highlights factors that may result in more prolonged and/or difficult bereavement. These factors include 1) the characteristics of the death; 2) characteristics of the relationship with the deceased person(s); 3) the survivor’s particular vulnerabilities including past mental health; 4) previous life experiences including losses and trauma; 4) support in one’s family and social network after the death; and 5) other crises that may arise in the aftermath of the death.

External or objective factors that influence our reactions and potential long-term outcome include the following: 1) suddenness and lack of anticipation; 2) violence, mutilation and destruction; 3) degree of preventability and/or randomness of the death; 4) multiple deaths (bereavement overload); and 5) mourner’s personal encounter with death involving significant threat to his/her personal survival, or a massive and shocking confrontation with the deaths (and/or mutilation) of others.

If you experience traumatic grief reactions, a counsellor can be a valuable support, not only help you understand what is going on, but also to guide you through the process of healing.


Ambrose, J. Traumatic Grief: What We Need to Know as Trauma Responders

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