Grief, The Dismissed Yet Common Experience By Joi Latson, Psy.D on 1/20/22 - 11:56 AM

When I mention grief and loss to my clients, I see their eyes widen with concern. Some will quickly offer, “Oh but wait, no one close to me has died.”

One day it hit me, everyday grief is not normalized nor validated in society. We are so quick to acknowledge the death of someone but not quick enough to acknowledge ended relationships, loss of a job, divorces, loss of finances, loss of friendships, miscarriages, loss of identity, expectations, aging, or retirement.

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As I continue to advance my knowledge and practice in grief, I realize it’s not that grief is not acknowledged, but that instead many—clinicians likely included—don’t fully appreciate its innumerable forms, both great and “seemingly” small, especially, perhaps, if they have not directly experienced it. Recently, this awareness hit me when a client in my grief group expressed with sadness, “I don’t think I belong here.” This person had joined the group after losing their eyesight, while others were in attendance due to losing someone from either suicide or homicide.

I remember feeling the urge to tear up, hearing someone who was experiencing a huge loss invalidate their own pain. In that moment I realized just how dismissed the common experience of grief and loss truly is.

I then offered the client a list of commonly experienced feelings including sadness, anger, confusion, heaviness, pain, disbelief, fear, numbness. They answered, “Yes, I've felt every single one of those.” I then explained to the client that grief is not a “one size fits all” type of experience. It is unique to every individual, not linear. Nor are there rules to grieving, which often make it seem complicated. Some clients simply don’t have a vocabulary that extends to emotions, so providing a list such as this one has been helpful in my work with grieving clients.

It was my goal to help this client understand that grief is a reaction to loss, which explains why they not only belong here in the group, but they also belong in their grief. The truth is, grief does not have to be recognized by others to be validated.

As time went on and the group members became closer, the “who/what” of their grief no longer mattered because they eventually started to bond over the “why.” They began to realize that their pain was the same. Sure, they were all there for different reasons, but their tears looked the same, and their voids felt similar. Eventually, they found comfort and healing within each other’s experiences and words.

After realizing that grief has no face, just different cases, my client no longer felt as if they didn’t belong. Their differences are what made the group feel full. They provided support and balance for each other. The group became a safe space to feel their grief that was either dismissed by themselves, society, or by those around them. Dismissed not because it did not matter, but because it was simply not understood or spoken about.

This client felt that they didn’t belong because the discussion of grief had been shoved under the table for far too long. Discussions around or about grief can be easily dismissed because they are heavy and can be scary. Yet it is something that can’t or at least shouldn’t be avoided. All will someday experience loss, and grief will inevitably follow. Working with grieving clients has taught me that opening a space in clinical conversations can and has helped my clients feel normal, something that loss takes from them. I always say, “Awareness can lead to understanding, and understanding can lead to healing.”

I then ask the next question, “Do clients dismiss grief out of fear that if they talk about it, the pain attached to it becomes real or too much of a burden to bear?” No one likes feeling sadness, pain, anger, and irritation, but ignoring these feelings doesn’t make them go away. If anything, dismissing them will only make them come back harder. The sadness they feel isn’t there for no reason. It’s there because what they are experiencing is part of being human.

If I were to have dismissed my client’s pain and referred them to a colleague, who knows what their grief would have morphed into—it would have likely expanded to include loss-of-clinician. Dismissing the client’s grief would not have made their eyesight come back, nor would it have made the emotional pain they felt lessened or disappear. Yes, this client’s loss differed from others in the group, but if we crossed out “loss of eyesight” and had that same client explain the feelings of loss they were experiencing, we would see that the “who/what” attached to our losses doesn't make them more or less painful. Yet the “who/what” attached to our support system can increase chances of healing and acceptance.


It is my hope that one day no one will say, “My loss does not belong here,” but until that day, I will welcome all losses and forms of grief into my therapy group and in conversations with my clients. I will open similar doors to these experiences in my own life.

File under: The Art of Psychotherapy, Musings and Reflections