IHCAN magazine cover

My grief coaching and mentoring interview

I wanted to share a segment of the ‘In Practice’ article written about me in the January 2021 edition of IHCAN magazine. (IHCAN stands for Integrative Healthcare and Applied Nutrition.) In the interview, I explain my reasons for developing my practice to include grief coaching and mentoring.

Grief Coach Vanessa May

What’s your main therapy/modality?

Until 2019 I happily practiced nutritional therapy and wellbeing coaching, both together and separately. In 2019, my life changed irrevocably when I experienced a family tragedy and was unable to work for 11 months due to grief and a diagnosis of PTSD. During this time, I wrote a book, partly as a form of therapy as I found bereavement and trauma counselling didn’t really adequately meet my needs. During the writing of my personal story, I began to realise there might be a way I could use my experience to help others – by using both my existing skills and the ones I was gaining through my own personal circumstances and extensive reading. So the second part of my book covers ways to support yourself physically and emotionally whilst grieving, as well as exploring the far-reaching effects of trauma on our mind, body and spirit. (I have recently signed a contract with a publisher and my book will be out in the late spring).

After such a life-shattering occurrence, I then wondered how I could adapt my practice to my profoundly changed way of being and I found that the natural step, after writing my book, was to offer grief coaching and mentoring, incorporating coaching and nutritional therapy into this work. This approach of holistically addressing both the physical and emotional aspects of grief is, to my knowledge, fairly unique.

What conditions or types of client do you see most of?

Stressed ones – in one form or another! Before my bereavement, I specialised in working mainly with hormonal issues, low mood, anxiety and fatigue (including CFS/ME/fibromyalgia which I’d done additional training in). I still work with clients who have these concerns but now, in addition, I work with clients who are bereaved. Most of them also suffer with low mood, anxiety and fatigue as part of their grieving process.

What do you find the easiest to work with? And why?

The clients who successfully make the most positive and far-reaching changes to their lives are those who are prepared to look at every aspect of their health and wellbeing, which is why combining nutritional therapy and wellbeing coaching works so well. These clients are the easiest to work with, and the most rewarding.

What is the most challenging type of problem that you get presented with? And why do you find this most challenging?

Clients who are coming to me for grief coaching are rather in a league of their own. In my view, not all grief is equal and so it’s easier to observe progression in someone who has lost an elderly relative, than it is in someone who has lost a child. The latter will invariably need a greater level of support and working with them is inevitably challenging because the loss is so life-changing. They are not going to ‘get over’ their loss. However, helping these clients find measurable ways to support themselves through the worst of all experiences and giving them hope that eventually the pain will soften, and that their life can still have purpose and moments of joy, is rewarding. Sometimes just listening to them tell their story and talk about their pain is more important than anything else I can do for them.

What one thing is absolutely essential to you in your practice?

Compassion.

If money, time and effort were no object, what one thing would you change about your practice?

I feel passionate about grief education. It’s only in recent years that mental health issues have received the awareness and attention they deserve. I would like to see this awareness directed towards grief which, after all, everyone is likely to experience at some point in their lives. It may be that the pandemic has started to change this to some extent. However, in view of the experience of both myself and my clients, it seems many people lack sensitivity towards, or understanding of, the complexity of a significant loss, and this can compound the pain already being experienced.

I also feel that the physical manifestations of grief are invariably overlooked. It doesn’t seem to be in the remit of bereavement counsellors, and GP’s tend to just offer antidepressants or sleeping medication as their solution. Before my own experience, I had no idea that grief could be such a physical thing, so visceral. It can put tremendous strain on your body in all manner of ways, including potentially suppressing immunity. The stress of grief can increase inflammation in the body and studies have shown that in some cases, grief can very seriously affect your health. Research has shown that the likelihood of bereaved spouses having a sudden cardiac death rises significantly in the six months following a death and traumatic grief symptoms can precede illnesses such as cancer. I currently feel rather alone in my approach of addressing both the physical and emotional aspects of grief and would love this to change.

What is the biggest challenge you face as a practitioner?

In view of my answer above, I would like to reach more bereaved people. Although grief coaching is established in the US, most people in this country only know about bereavement counselling and don’t realise there are other ways of supporting grief. I feel passionate about using my holistic approach and know this to be an effective way of addressing the myriad of issues that can be encountered during the grieving process – but I need more people to be able to find me.

Published in the January 2021 edition of IHCAN magazine.

If you’d like me to work with you as your grief coach and mentor, please get in touch: vanessa@wellbeingandnutrition.co.uk

Grief coaching: www.wellbeingandnutrition.co.uk/services