Sunday, 3 May 2009

The Grief Industry

"Within weeks (after the collapse of the World Trade Center in New York on 11 September 2001), several thousands grief and crisis counsellors arrived in the city. Some were dispatched by charitable and religious organizations, many others worked for private companies that provide services to businesses following catastrophes" wrote Jerome Groopman in The New Yorker of 26 January 2004 - yes, I'm a bit behind with my reading, I know.

I've always wondered what these care-teams that are routinely dispatched when a tragedy occurs actually do. The most important, I remember a grief professional once saying, is to be able to listen. I must admit that such an answer (what a job qualification!) leaves me at a loss for words. And, needless to say, that is rare.

Groopman elaborates: A travel agent who was relatively numb during the debriefing his company (for fear of being sued if it didn't - lawyers are surely creative when it comes to making money) required him to participate in, said: "But the people who were really crying hadn't even been downtown."

"How much does crisis counselling help - or hurt" asks the above mentioned piece on "The Grief Industry". One of Groopmans sources opines that the idea of 'counselling' should be better dropped: "He told me that the way we respond to individual or mass trauma should be guided by how we behave after the loss of a loved one. 'What happens when someone in your family dies?' he said. 'People make sure you take care of yourself, get enough sleep, don't drink too much, have food.' ... 'No one should have to tell anyone anything.'"

That sounds pretty reasonable to me. For the full text go here


Trevor said...

Hello Hans,

An invasion of grief counselors, the ranks of nodding sympathetic professionals swarming into a city-desperate to work and help. It seems both odd and discomforting to me. No doubt they will need to be paid, but who pays for a veritable army to soothe the pain of anyone who feels they have effected in an entire city? You have added wit here Hans and I like it. What does a ‘listener’ earn I wonder? More than a labourer? More than a stressed clerk or member of the official public service?

You pick up on something I have occasionally wondered about-does focusing on psychological damage and neuroses break open the mental wound people experience through trauma, further. If a person is speaking about all their fears and worries, ‘letting it all out’ as the American self-help gurus say, does this help? Is this better than mourning in quiet, carrying on, thinking about it later but otherwise keeping alive, functioning, living? Is it a mark of anathema to suggest the direct opposite of what is proscribed by the grief culture? To assert that returning to and enjoying life is a better solution than commiseration and dwelling in anxiety?

I would rather keep my mental bricks arranged in some semblance of order, rather than throw it all down, raise up the filth covered mental fragments and say “see I am ruined, look at my tragic fate.” I state this because eventually, the filth has to be cleaned off, and an existence arranged or renewed anyway-unless paranoia and mental defeat at adversity is to be a person’s permanent companion. It is better to do your best and never to let all those bricks fall. Therefore, I think the grief industry is harmful.

AcrossCultures said...

Good points, Trevor.
Grief counseling is a business and so the counselors benefit and this is why it basically exists. Is it harmful? I would not say that it is generally harmful but I'm pretty sure that for quite some it is. I guess the idea is that by describing feelings and emotions with words these feelings and emotions can become somewhat manageable. That might work for some. There's of course also a cultural aspect to it for some cultures simply aren't into the "pouring out your soul"-thing. As a Japanese once said: Why is it that you Westerners always have to say out loud what's on your mind? Well, not all Westerners feel like pouring out their soul but some Japanese may ... In short: We really do not need grief professionals, common sense will do.