As we deal with an aging population and work with clients over long periods of time, we may find ourselves dealing more and more with clients who have suffered a great loss. In a professional (but highly personal) relationship, it is sometimes difficult to know how to respond. For one thing, as difficult as it is to witness a client’s anguish, it’s critical to acknowledge their sorrow; which leads us to the dilemma of the fine line between being intrusive and supporting them in their journey; and finally, sometimes, in the relative safety of your treatment room, clients become emotionally vulnerable. Depending on your experience and personality, you may find these situations incredibly awkward.
I grew up as the granddaughter of a country preacher, which meant that I spent a lot of time tagging along on sick calls, nursing home visits, and bereavement counseling. This experience has proven valuable when witnessing clients go through almost every loss imaginable in the last 25 years. So I am going to share some simple strategies that might help you navigate these situations as well.
Attending a memorial service/hospital visit (and) or simply writing a note are appropriate responses. How long and closely you have worked with the client will help determine how much you devote to expressing your condolences. For example, I have attended many a funeral of longtime clients and client’s family, but that may not be appropriate for someone I only saw a couple of times. At the very least, a written note expresses your acknowledgment of their situation and shows your ongoing support.
I usually wait several weeks to send a note of encouragement. Often they are returning to their “new reality” and need support more than ever. Periodically I will make additional contact to check-in. I keep track of this kind of information in the client file. I had a long time client who always took off the anniversary of their child’s passing and booked a massage. For years I made sure to check in with him before that day was booked up.
Support in the treatment room
I am extremely flexible, especially when it comes to scheduling. There are so many different ways that people deal with heartbreak. Including not being able to get out at the last moment or discovering they can only hold it together for half of their session. When the client is in my office, I simply ask after their state of mind. I let them control the conversation. If they want to talk, I am here. If not, I let them be. As they talk, I continue to work: maintaining eye contact if possible, staying relaxed, and not interrupting. If they become emotional, I gauge if I need to continue; stop where I am and maintain contact, or if I need to step back and give them their space. It is important to meet them where they are at any given moment without making them feel under the microscope.
It is also important to remember that you are their only healthy touch for some of your clients. Having said that, I will point out that these strategies work if you are dealing with a client who is dealing with a death, has received a terminal diagnosis, or is facing major life changes for whatever reason.
Be well, Do good work, and please share your compassionate strategies with us.
P.S. Here is an often-used “Grief Aromatherapy Blend” that can be used for diffuser or inhalation: