Edith Steffen, PsychD: ‘Post-traumatic growth and meaning reconstruction following sense-of-presence experiences in bereavement: What counseling psychologists can do to facilitate the process.’
Edith Steffen, PsychD, Division of Counselling Psychology, British Psychological Society, UK
Bereavement can be a highly traumatic event that may not only be accompanied by extreme distress, but that can also seriously disrupt a survivor’s sense of self as well as the basic assumptions a person may hold about the world, life and death, potentially leading to a serious crisis of meaning, especially when the death of the loved one was violent, sudden and/or unexpected. While much of the clinical bereavement literature in the twentieth century has focused on ‘letting go and moving on’, some recent strands of bereavement scholarship have emphasized the potential adaptiveness and non-pathological nature of the ongoing relationship with the deceased; have focused on meaning-making and meaning reconstruction and have shown that bereavement can also lead to positive changes such as post-traumatic growth.
As an example, many people who have lost a loved one report experiences of the presence of the deceased, sometimes in sensorily perceivable forms and sometimes through events that may be experienced as meaningful signs and symbols. Qualitative research (by the presenter) showed that perceivers who made sense of these experiences by drawing on religious or spiritual frameworks, reported more positive changes as well as personal growth. As perceivers tend to be reluctant to share such experiences with others, including professionals, for fear of ridicule or being thought of as mad, practitioners may need to develop sensitive techniques to allow for disclosure, exploration and meaning-making. It is argued here that counseling psychologists are particularly well-placed to engage with such work. The purpose of this contribution to the symposium is to invite discussion about applying a positive psychology stance to working with such phenomena in order to facilitate meaningful development and post-traumatic growth.