Death and loss of life is a common occurrence for some professionals
Death and loss of life is a more common experience for those working in environments where the exposure to the ill, the injured or those that have already passed on. Professions such as Doctors, Paramedics, and Nurses, NHS Support staff, the Armed Forces and those working within the funereal field often have daily exposure to grief and death.
Initial support for these professions is often provided in the moment by the more experienced and senior staff. There may be some training received in the training of these professions, such as Doctors or Social Workers, however this is often lacking, due to time constraints of the training.
Professionals grief response is different to that felt by family and friends
Regardless of your profession, be it a Armed Forces member, a Social Worker, a Nurse, a Doctor or a Professional Caregiver, exposure to multiple and continuous losses in your line of work, you will experience a grief response. Unfortunately many professionals don’t realise that their grief response is different to that felt by family and friends who have lost a loved one to death.
Professional grief often takes on the form of ‘hidden grief’ – this is internalised and is not openly expressed. There is no natural outlet for the grief and the demands of the job and the need to carry on often overshadows it. The lack of expression of the grief may lead to cumulative grief or as it is sometimes known – bereavement overload. Unchecked, this can lead to legacy of vulnerability, burnout or a post traumatic stress reaction.
The lack of expression of the grief may lead to cumulative grief or as it is sometimes known – bereavement overload.
In the helping professions, ‘hidden grief’ is not a new concept
In the helping professions, ‘hidden grief’ is not a new concept. There has always been an expectation that working in high loss settings one becomes hardened to death and dying. The opposite is in fact the case; familiarity with death does not make it easier to accept loss or to manage the professional grief more successfully.
There is a need to maintain the professional status quo, this requires a balance between engagement and detachment and this balance will require ongoing self monitoring. If the balance is lost the detachment or engagement can become dysfunctional. This can then lead to the inability to meet your own needs or the inability to care for others and inevitably being unable to continue working in that profession.
Familiarity with death does not make it easier to accept loss or to manage the professional grief more successfully
As C. Murray Parkes, one of the foremost experts in bereavement has noted:
“With proper training and support, we shall find that repeated griefs, far from undermining our humanity and care, enable us to cope more confidently and more sensitively with each succeeding loss.”
Parkes, CM. “Orienteering the caregiver’s grief.” Journal of Palliative Care, 1986; 1:5-7.