Nancy’s Story

Gifts and Challenges of working as a Complicated Grief Therapist

During 2007, Dr. Katherine Shear invited me to become trained as a Complicated Grief Therapist so I could provide Complicated Grief Treatment for her N.I.M.H. study, which was being run at The New York State Psychiatric Institute. I eagerly agreed and thought to myself “This will be an easy task because I have been providing treatment in the field for over 25 years.”

I quickly began to understand that becoming a Complicated Grief Therapist involved many challenges. The content of the work is evocative and uncomfortable. I rarely thought or talked about the actual experience of dying. Additionally, it was necessary for the therapist to tolerate intense pain that flooded the patient continuously. In an effort to deal with my own emotions, I knew that I had to develop a level of comfort with death.

SkyAs an avid photographer, I often turned to photography to help me express my emotions during challenging times. As my training continued as a complicated grief therapist, once again, I turned to photography to help me adjust to my powerful feelings. Quite often, I took my camera and spent time exploring cemeteries and graveyards. My goal was to use my photography to visually capture death. My photography odyssey enabled my level of comfort to grow. I created a book called A Time To Die.

My life has been enhanced forever as a result of my work with people who are stuck in complicated grief. Another example occurred when I was discussing goals and aspirations with a patient. We help patients rebuild their lives and establish dreams and goals. When the patient asked me about my dreams, I realized that I wanted to photograph different neighborhoods in New York City. My photography project started in West Harlem. When an important member of the community died suddenly, I dedicated my photography book to the deceased member of the community and helped the community process the loss.

I have the pleasure of sharing my work regarding complicated grief treatment when I presented papers at The International Conference for the Advance Professional Practice of Clinical Social Work in Williamsburg, Virginia during July 2012 and Reykjavik, Iceland July 2013. Please feel free to read my paper Complicated Grief Treatment: A Social Work Perspective.