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Seven alternative therapies for people coping with loss

A montage of alternative bereavement therapy ideas including quilting, art and writing

Talking through your grief with a grief counselor or bereavement therapist can be a big help when you are coping with loss.

Some creative or outdoor pursuits can help with healing, as an alternative or additional form of grief support that you might explore through a bereavement support group, or as part of a club made up of friendly people in your hometown or local neighborhood.

Although this kind of grief support might not be for everyone, you might find that one of these alternative therapies helps you as you begin to deal with the death of a loved one.

Art therapy

A person studies three amatuer paintings

Art therapy sessions are led by therapists who use art as a way to identify and address emotional issues. Clients are encouraged to explore the thoughts and emotions behind the object or image they’ve created.

According to The American Art Therapy Association, research supports the use of art within professional grief and loss therapy, with therapeutic benefits to be had through artistic self-expression and reflection.

The American Art Therapy Association has a handy online locator to help you find an art therapist in your state.

Creative grief artwork can be a way to literally draw out grief and make sense of complicated feelings and emotions, by putting pen or brush to paper, scrapbooking or working with clay. Many family bereavement centers and hospices offer creative workshops as part of their bereavement support programs where people who have lost a loved one can express their feelings through painting, drawing, crafting and making scrapbooks.

Memory quilting

A collage of artist Lynn Wood's memory quilts

Quilting is a time-honored tradition in the U.S., and can be a wonderful way of keeping memories alive, while having a project to quietly focus on. You could use squares snipped from a favorite shirt or other garment, to create a treasured family heirloom. As an alternative form of grief and loss therapy, it can be centering and healing.

There are many websites offering patterns and hints to get you started if you are new to quilting, while in many communities you may be able to find a regular quilting club or workshop, offering practical support with your stitching as well as an opportunity for company and conversation.

Some quilting and crafting workshops have a special focus on grief support and the bereaved: Artist and craft therapist Sherri Lynn Wood has worked with bereaved families in many of her Passage Quilting workshops and also trains therapists and professional quilters to incorporate the processes involved, in their own practices. Based in Oakland, California, she holds workshops across the U.S. throughout the year and also undertakes commissions.

Walking therapy

Two people in conversation as they walk on a beach

Grief can trigger all sorts of complicated emotions. A bereavement earlier in our lives can also sometimes be at the heart of worries that later come to the surface and overwhelm us.

It can be good to talk, but difficult to know where to begin, especially if you find the idea of a visiting a counselor in a clinical environment daunting. Walking therapy, or walk and talk therapy, with a qualified therapist or social worker in an open outdoor environment, can help alleviate some of the inhibitions that might hold us back from talking in a more formal setting.

You can also literally set your own pace, from a contemplative walk at gentle speed, to an energetic session. Walk and talk therapy can be a helpful way for people who have been bereaved to begin the healing process. Physical activity outdoors can also be beneficial for your emotional wellbeing.

Bereavement support groups and hospices sometimes offer more informal peer-to-peer walking and talking groups, which may be an option if you’d prefer to simply connect with other people who are coping with loss.

Cooking therapy

An apple pie ready to serve

There’s a practical side to cooking therapy for anyone who has been bereaved, but finds themselves at a loss in the kitchen when a loved one dies. Eating well is always important, but especially when you’re feeling feeling low and vulnerable. Yet it can be easy to fall into self-neglect when you are grieving, or ditch regular meals for packet snacks and takeout food.

In New York, grief and bereavement specialist Peter Gevisser has developed Cooking and Remembering workshops, aimed at bringing strangers together to cook, while sharing stories about their loved one, no matter how long ago their bereavement.

Preparing food played a big part in his own journey through grief more than 10 years ago: “My ability to move through grief, rather than live in spite of it, I owe in large part to cooking and remembering,” he says.

If you are a member of a bereavement group or circle of friends who’ve lost a loved one, why not organise your own bake-off, lunch or supper club? Talk and share, as you prepare and enjoy a meal in good company.

Laughter yoga

Close up face-to-face of a man and his son laughing

It’s hard to imagine laughter in your life when you are in the raw stages of grief, but laughter therapy may be healing for people coping with bereavement over a longer period of time.

This alternative therapy is based around the theory that deep belly-laughs have many health benefits, including reducing stress levels and anxiety, generating feel-good endorphins and releasing pent-up emotions, as well as being a way to get aerobic exercise. Laughter yoga sessions are usually held in groups and often outdoors.

They say that laughter’s the best medicine and the idea is that the body can’t tell the difference between fake laughter and the genuine thing. Laughter yoga sessions are usually based around a series of breathing and laughter exercises, with classes ranging in duration from 30 minutes to three hours.

Exercises during the class aim to turn laughter from simulated giggles into natural, pleasurable laughter. Between laughs, participants regain their breath with some deep-breathing exercises and sessions usually end with a relaxation techniques to wind down.

People of all ages and abilities can take part in these gentle holistic workshops, which could benefit your emotional and physical wellbeing as you recalibrate your life, when you are coping with loss.

Creative writing

A person putting pen to paper Putting pen to paper is one way to explore the emotions and themes to come out of a talking therapy session.

Some counselors recommend clients ‘journalize’ their thoughts as a way of processing in between therapy sessions and encourage the use of poetry, or even adapting those feelings into fiction or fairy tales.

A grief journal may be something you prefer to work on by yourself. In the raw stages of grief, a grief journal can be a valuable place to express words of sadness, anger or disbelief. It may also be a space for you to compile lists of practical tasks and personal goals to work through.

Your journal could be a space for you to be creative and convey your thoughts and memories in poetry or fiction, or even write letters to the loved one you miss.

Many hospices, cancer support centers and bereavement charities offer creative writing workshops as a form of grief and loss therapy among their bereavement support programs. There are also many online communities that help the bereaved to develop their writing skills and express their feelings.

“The power of words to move grief through us is real and available to all,” says Connie Baxter, bereavement care coordinator at Brattleboro Area Hospice in Vermont. You can read some of the moving prose and poetry to have come from members of its community here.

Could your experiences form the basis of a blog? Opening up and sharing your journey could be a comfort for someone else who has lost a loved one, or is struggling with their grief.

Singing

A group of seniors enoying singing ina  choir

Singing in a group is thought to be good for your wellbeing, with physical benefits through improved breathing and the release of feel-good endorphins having a positive impact upon your emotions and stress levels.

Many community choirs and singing projects are begun with mental or physical wellbeing in mind, bringing people together for emotionally uplifting sessions in song, regardless of ability. As most will tell you, you don’t need be able to sing, to sing!

Around the U.S. you’ll find choirs formed by people who share the loss of a loved one or other life experiences in common and who find comfort, companionship and pleasure in the physical and emotional release of raising their voices to the rafters.

Visit our Help & Resources pages to find details of bereavement support and grief counseling organizations

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