There are people who help others everyday as professional caregivers. These people may be social workers, support workers, teachers, counsellors or acting in any role where they provide care and support for others. In these roles we may find ourselves supporting clients through death and loss but what happens when the loss experienced is a client?
If we have worked in the field long enough we have all lost someone we have worked with. We work with a vulnerable population, sometimes we are supporting them through a terminal illness or other times their death is sudden and unexpected, possibly a suicide. We are professionals who establish therapeutic boundaries, but that does not mean we are devoid of human emotion.
The loss of a client can be painful, causing us to think about what we could have done differently, wondering if we did enough or simply mourning the loss of someone who touched our life. Feeling grief is a normal, healthy reaction to loss but it is very different losing a client than losing a friend or family member. With these boundaries firmly in place we may grieve alone and without the support of others. Here are some thoughts and reflections that can help.
Don’t Let Grief Go Unprocessed
Of course we have to consider confidentiality but there are options. If it’s available to you utilize clinical supervision to talk about how you’re feeling. The loss may bring up feelings about another client we are working with or concerns about our own competency. Talk about it in a safe place and make connections to how you’re feeling and the thoughts you may be having that aren’t evidence based. Utilize your Employee Assistance Plan and contact a counsellor where you can process your feelings in a confidential and non judgmental environment.
Accept That Grief Is Messy
Grief is not linear and yes, it is messy, as the above graphic might suggest. Shortly after the death of a client I found myself unexpectedly having to leave a staff meeting after becoming tearful. Emotions can sneak up on you at the most inconvenient times. Speaking to colleagues who have experienced a similar loss can be really helpful.
Reflect and Respond
Clinical reflection can assist us in our practice whether it is creating a professional network or thinking about the client and our positive interactions. Consider what you learned from the experience and how this impacts your role as a helping professional.
Be self aware
Be aware of the impact this is having on you and take care of yourself. You had a unique relationship with your client and your feelings about this loss will also be unique. Buy that bouquet of flowers, go for that walk, have a cry and above all be kind to you because that is exactly what you need right now.
References and Resources
Coping with a client’s suicide, American Psychological Association, November 2008 gradPSYCH
Coping with the emotional aspects of a client’s death, The New Social Worker, Sharon Martin, LCSW
A Therapist’s Grief: When a Client Suddenly Dies, Paula J. Siegel, MFT
When Therapists Mourn: Coping With a Client’s Death, Zur Institute