Using Photos to Helping Clients Cope with Bereavement

Throughout my years of working for Cruse Bereavement Care and other counselling agencies I have seen a lot of clients struggle with bereavement. The loss of a loved one can be so great it is sometimes hard to put it in words and we end up not knowing what to say. It’s a massive thing to lose someone, whether it is through suicide, natural causes, or sudden death, such as a stillborn birth.  Each person’s experience of bereavement is unique. Some clients, in particular, struggle to express how they feel and are unable to tell others how they feel because they don’t know themselves or are scared to open up. It is also very common for clients to get on with things and try and keep themselves busy even when they know that something isn’t right within them. I find these clients suffer more than most, but I will talk more about that in another blog. A way to get these clients talking about their loss is through using photographs. This allows a personal connection and engagement with the photos. The client will bring in photographs of the loved one, which allows them to talk about moments or memories shared with the loved one around when the photos were taken. I help the client explore their connection with the photos (and their loved one) by asking questions. Where was the photo was taken? Were they there at that moment? What was happening when the photo was taken? I also explore whether there were any photos that caught the client’s eye in particular and explore why that was.  These exploratory questions unlock what’s really happening within the client.  These questions all help the client process what is going on in the counselling room and what they are they feeling. I know from experience, this can open their feelings up and the client can finally talk about their loss with someone. Even if it’s just having a cry, they are allowing it flow out of them. Sometimes it’s like opening the flood gates. Perhaps they have never experienced these emotions before. More than likely they have experienced these emotions, but this experience might be the first time they’ve shared their grief with someone else. They may have hidden these emotions from the rest of their family.  In a sense, I am saying it’s ok to feel this way and it’s ok to cry. This enables the client to explore these feelings in a place where they feel safe. Having explored their feelings in the counselling room, they may be able to also explore the same feelings at home with a family member. I have also found that the photos the clients find difficult to look at become a lot easier to look at because they have already faced their pain.  Clients have reported that using the photograph method has really helped empower them to have the resources to cope with their loss.