As It Is or As I Am – the Art of Becoming

A journey … towards … being

Gift of Tears by Susan Lendrum and Gabrielle Syme

Initially wrote this review (April 2009) of Gift of Tears: A Practical Approach to Loss and Bereavement Counsellingas part of the Cruse foundation course work.  We were allowed to choose any book, that had some connection to bereavement and/or grief.  Why did I choose this book?  It seemed a practical book.  Whilst it does contain theory there is more application of that theory that pure theory alone.  It looked like a book that would be useful in being with clients, not just one to increase my theoretical knowledge.  This seems borne out by the contents. The book in divided into five parts – Loss and nurture, Death as a particular form of loss, Working with the grieving, Anger and guilt, concluding with Professional implications. There are also lengthy appendices (nearly 40 pages worth), giving further resources, websites, books and other helps to further develop an understanding of loss and grief.  There are also 17 “exercises” spread throughout the book, where the reader is asked to engage more with the material to check understanding, both of the written material but also to gain insight into losses experienced oneself.  Each chapter concludes with a “Summary” where the main points covered are listed as bullet points. There is also reference back to earlier chapters where a concept or scenario has been introduced.

All in all, a very practical book.  A very readable book too.  There is occasional “jargon”, but only where introducing concepts, such as with Bowlby’s attachment theory. It is not filled with jargon, just for the sake of it, as some counselling books appear to be.  However, where there is any, it is explained clearly.  An example of this on page 73 is “reactive attachment disorder (RAD). This is explained in relation to children who experience “neglectful and dysfunctional parents, endure the circumstantial loss of going into foster care, changing foster parent or being adopted” who then having “been severely neglected, are unable to form normal relationships with others. Their capacity to attach has been damaged”.

Chapter 7 points out the need to be aware of cultural differences, more so now in Britain than in previous generations, with the “cultural variety” now present in our society.  Help is provided with an outline of mourning customs in the main cultural and religious groups present in the UK – including Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism and Humanists.

Part III – Working with the grieving is excellent.  Chapters 10, 11 and 12 are very practical. Chapter 10 “Basic counselling skills” is perhaps summarised by the following quotes from the first two paragraphs: “…our role is to observer, accept and value the experiences of others, trying to understand this experience at many levels yet without wishing to change it in any way”, along with “attitudes of care, nurture and non-judgemental acceptance” enabling clients to tell “their stores and memories of the person who has died bit also their feelings”.  The several exercises in this chapter help to bring a great understanding of how the reader can become this kind of counsellor.  Chapters 11 and 12 expand this basic level of being, adding further skills, such as boundaries, including starting and ending sessions and relationships, giving some examples of difficult openings and endings. There is also a brief discussion of time-limited counselling.

Chapter 13 “Ways of helping children” is again very practical.  The ‘faces’ and ‘boxes’ games detailed, both seem excellent ways of getting younger clients to recognise and come to terms with their feelings.

The penultimate chapter on “Supervision” is worthwhile too.  Supervision is seen as three fold:

  1. Restorative – helping the counsellor to “remain receptive to [the] experience of others”.
  2. Formative – providing training in the early stages of counselling, looking at skills used in sessions, being “aware of responses and … reactions to clients”.
  3. Normative – concerning the counsellors ethical conduct.

An insight mentioned in various places through the book, not before considered by myself, is that the process of grieving for a person who has died is the same for other losses in life.  The skills, the way of being, in helping a client work through their grief for someone who has died are in many ways the same for helping a client work through a loss experienced by divorce, redundancy, loss of health and so forth.

One last note about the book is how it mirrors in many ways the Cruse course material.  It almost makes me wonder, not that it matters, which came first, the book or the Cruse material.  They certainly complement each other.  I would, therefore, recommend this book, “Gift of Tears” to all who enrol on the Cruse foundation course and any one who seeks further knowledge of working with the bereaved.

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