Robert Neimeyer (Two-day)

Workshop Title
Techniques of Grief Therapy: Creative Practices for Counseling the Bereaved

Purpose/ Objective of Workshop
As contemporary models of bereavement have become more nuanced and empirically informed, so too have the practices available to grief counselors and therapists.  This two-day workshop offers in-depth training in several of these techniques, nesting them both within the therapy relationship and in the context of current theories and research that provide flexible frameworks for intervention.  Making extensive use of actual clinical videos as well as how-to instruction in the use a numerous therapeutic tools, we will discuss and practice several methods for helping clients integrate the reality of the loss into the ongoing story of their lives, while also reconstructing their continuing bond to their loved one..

Brief Description
Day 1:  Processing the Event Story of the Death
Beginning with a discussion of the power of presence as a fundamental dimension of the therapeutic “holding environment,” we will consider how we can quickly assess our clients’ needs, particularly when they struggle with complicated, prolonged grief symptomatology.  We will then discuss how to foster a safe relational container for a healing “re-telling” of the loss experience, anchoring such work in both contemporary meaning reconstruction and dual process models and related research.  Drawing on clinical videos of clients contending with losses through cancer, sudden accident and suicide, we will learn to listen between the lines of the stories clients tell themselves and others about the death to grasp more fully the unvoiced meaning of their grief, and how we can help them integrate the event story of the death into the larger narrative of their lives.  Participants should conclude the session with sharpened skills for clinical assessment, a clearer appreciation for the challenge to meaning and spiritualty associated with violent death bereavement, and an expanded toolbox for using metaphor, body work and a variety of narrative procedures for helping clients make sense of the loss and their response to it.

Learning outcomes: (Day 1)

  • Distinguish between therapeutic “presence” and “absence” in the process of therapy
  • Recognize empirical risk factors associated with complicated grief reactions
  • Implement restorative retelling and situational revisiting procedures for mastering the event story of the loss
  • Differentiate between forms of directed journaling that foster self-immersion and self-distancing to modulate emotions evoked by the death
  • Outline metaphoric and body-oriented procedures for exploring the sensed meanings of the client’s grief
  • Describe narrative techniques for accommodating loss in literal and figurative ways into the changed narrative of the client’s life

Day 2:  Accessing the Back Story of the Relationship
Death may end a life, but not necessarily a relationship. Drawing on attachment-informed and two-track models of bereavement, we will begin by considering grieving as a process of reconstructing rather than relinquishing our bonds with those who have died, and the circumstances that can interfere with this natural process.  Clinical videos bearing on the death of parents, children and spouses will sensitize participants to various impediments to revisiting and reorganizing the “back story” of the ongoing relationship with the deceased, as well as to several techniques that can help move such work forward.  Creative narrative, emotion-focused and performative methods will be presented and practiced for re-introducing the deceased into the social and psychological world of the bereaved, fostering a sustaining sense of connection and alliance with the loved one in embracing a changed future, and working through issues of guilt, anger and abandonment triggered by the death and the shared life that preceded it.  Participants will leave with several tools for assessing “pro-symptom positions” that complicate grieving, helping clients appreciate the role of the loved one in their construction of their own identities, and re-accessing and revising frozen dialogues with the deceased that hamper post-loss adaptation.

Learning outcomes: (Day 2)

  • Identify dimensions of insecure attachment that complicate adaptation to the death
  • Distinguish between healthy and unhealthy features of continuing bonds with the deceased
  • Describe two procedures for detecting obstacles to accommodating the loss deriving from invisible loyalties to the loved one
  • Practice two techniques for consolidating a constructive bond with the deceased as the client transitions toward a changed future
  • Choreograph imaginal dialogues between the client and the deceased to reaffirm love and resolve residual conflicts and disappointments
  • Direct experiential work to access and restructure problematic emotions linked to the loss and its aftermath

Facilitator Bio

Robert A. Neimeyer, Ph.D., is a professor in the Psychotherapy Research Area of the Department of Psychology, University of Memphis, where he also maintains an active clinical practice. Since completing his doctoral training at the University of Nebraska in 1982, he has conducted extensive research on the topics of death, grief, loss, and suicide intervention.

Neimeyer has published 25 books, including Techniques of Grief Therapy: Creative Practices for Counseling the Bereaved; Grief and bereavement in contemporary society: Bridging research and practice, and The Art of Longing, a book of contemporary poetry. The author of nearly 400 articles and book chapters, he is currently working to advance a more adequate theory of grieving as a meaning-making process, both in his published work and through his frequent professional workshops for national and international audiences.

Neimeyer is the Editor of two respected international journals, Death Studies and the Journal of Constructivist Psychology, and served as President of the Association for Death Education and Counseling. In recognition of his scholarly contributions, he has been granted the Distinguished Research Award, the Distinguished Teaching Award, and the Eminent Faculty Award by the University of Memphis, elected Chair of the International Work Group on Death, Dying, and Bereavement, designated Psychologist of the Year by the Tennessee Psychological Association, made a Fellow of the Clinical Psychology Division of the American Psychological Association, and given the Research Recognition Award by the Association for Death Education and Counseling. Most recently, he has received the Phoenix: Rising to the Service of Humanity Award by the MISS Foundation and ADEC’s Clinical Practice Award for his contributions to grief therapy.