Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy For The Death Of A Loved One
There is a common thought pattern following the death of a loved one that could be categorized as faulty thinking, which makes cognitive behavioral therapy, with its emphasis on isolating, challenging, and correcting faulty thinking patterns, an important piece of the grief recovery puzzle.
Actually there are many common faulty thinking patterns following the death of a loved one but the one we want to talk about here is called fortune telling, which is basically where you believe you have a crystal ball that lets you see into the future in order to perfectly predict how things are going to play out.
In the throes of grief fortune telling manifests as the idea that you’ll never be happy again, that there’s no reason to expect anything good out of life anymore, that how you’re feeling now is how you’re going to feel forever.
Beliefs exert a powerful impact on thoughts, emotions, and behavior and therefore a powerful impact on outcomes. Often what we believe will happen ends up acting as a self-fulfilling prophecy, it ends up happening because we make our behavior and the behavior of those around us line up with our beliefs.
There is no denying that after losing a loved one things can never be the same again, but the difference is that going through the process of grief recovery leaves you with a scar whereas not going through the process of grief recovery leaves you with an open wound. Those who loudly proclaim that there is no such thing as ‘grief recovery’ or ‘closure’ are often victims of fortune telling, where their beliefs that they can never be happy again, that there’s no reason to expect anything good out of life anymore, and that they’re going to feel the same way forever keep them from ever taking those difficult steps towards healing.
When we say ‘closure’ we don’t mean forgetting, we don’t even necessarily mean moving on if by moving on what is meant is ceasing to think about or love the person who has passed away. What we do mean is recognizing that loss as final and having the courage to say goodbye, both to the person and to how things were, in order to stop letting the past take up too much space in the present and future. This is closure in the Gestalt sense of the word, closure in the sense of moving all the way through the needs satisfaction cycle so that it’s possible to open up new gestalts instead of staying perpetually stuck in the old one.
The point of cognitive behavioral therapy is to isolate the faulty thinking patterns responsible for dysfunction and then challenge them. In the context of this article, some questions to ask are:
“How can you be so sure you’ll never be happy again? Have you ever had an emotional state that lasted forever?”
“How do you know nothing good will ever come your way again? Have you ever had bad things happen to you when you thought the result would be good or good things happen to you when you thought the result would be bad?”
“Have you ever been wrong about a prediction you were sure would come true in the past? When?”
None of us can perfectly predict the future, but our thoughts, beliefs, and actions in the present can and do exert a profound influence on that future. By making room for the possibility, however small, of having a happy future where good things happen to you the first threads of that future start to be woven together.