Helping Forensic Clients with Grief and Loss In Coronavirus Times

As the world continues to be infected with the coronavirus, increasing numbers of people are suffering from anxiety, depression, and even PTSD symptoms.  Forensic clients, already facing the stress and burden of their forensic case, are especially vulnerable to experiencing an aggravation of their mental condition brought about by consequences of the virus:  social isolation, economic problems, health issues, and even the death of loved ones.  To help these clients deal with loss of security, health, or loved ones, the forensic therapist can teach them the stages of grieving and loss as elucidated by the pioneering psychiatrist,  Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. 

According to Kübler-Ross, when a person faces a loss (including death of a loved one), they tend to go through various psychological stages of grieving.  By understanding these stages, the forensic client can learn how to cope with their pain and emotional turmoil.

The stages are:

*Denial.  This is when the client says: “I can’t believe this is happening. How could they die? They were in great health,” or “How could I lose my job? I’ve been there for so many years.”  In shock, and not willing or able to accept the loss, clients are stuck in paralysis in this stage.

*Anger.  As the shock fades, some clients turn to anger.  They become angry at the government (for mishandling things), the doctors (for a terminal diagnosis of their loved one), their loved one (should have taken better care of themselves), or even at God or a higher power for causing the bad thing to happen. Sometimes, the client turns the anger inward and becomes angry at themselves for not doing more to save or rescue the person or situation.

*Bargaining. At some point, the client may try to bargain for a better result.  They bargain with the doctors to save the loved one’s life.  They bargain with God or a higher nature, saying: “If only you rescue me from this (or rescue my loved one), I will be a better and more spiritual person.”  Unfortunately, bargaining doesn’t usually work too often, and the person is often frustrated when facing a terrible catastrophe or loss and not being able to do anything about it.  

*Depression.  Now the client may arrive at the state of depression: a deep sadness, perhaps even a sense of hopelessness. This is often when the client comes to the psychologist’s office. They can’t eat or sleep (or eat or sleep too much); they have lost interest in socializing, doing their favorite activities, and even grooming themselves. They just want to be alone and isolate. At the extreme end of this stage, their hopelessness can turn into suicidal ideas and self-harm.

*Acceptance. Finally, the client can arrive at a stage of acceptance about what happened to them—the death of a love one; the loss of health, finances, or a relationship. Although they may still have painful memories of the loss from time to time, the client is able to move on from their suffering and find a certain sense of meaning and peace in what happened to them. This is the ultimate aim of therapy:  To help the client come to an understanding of their pain and loss and incorporate it into their life experience so they can become a stronger and more optimistic person.

Of course not all clients go through all of the Kübler-Ross stages, and they don’t necessarily go through them in order. However, a good number of individuals experience some combination of these emotions and thought processes when they face a loss .  Some useful therapeutic tools in helping a client recover from grief and loss include increasing social connection, finding a sense of meaning in their suffering, and building gratitude for the present and hope (optimism) for the future.

By working with a qualified forensic psychological professional, the client can begin to rise from the gloom of their emotional pain and loss and look forward toward a brighter tomorrow.

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