Friday, November 19, 2021

Resilient Grieving

Resilient Grieving, Dr Lucy Hone (Allen & Unwin, 2017)

This is an excellent book about grief, how it impacts and changes us, and how we learn to live with loss.

Dr Lucy Hone works in the field of resilience psychology. Living in Christchurch, she worked with people through major loss and disruption over the time of their earthquakes. Her life was then turned upside down when her daughter Abi (12) was killed in a car accident, along with two dear family friends.

As Lucy, her husband and two sons faced their devastating grief, she began to consider how her her work could interact with her grief experience. In the end, she decided she wanted to be proactive about her grieving, to take control of it.

Her reading, research and experience has produced Resilient Grieving (first published as What Abi Taught Us). She says “this book is less about what you might experience during bereavement and more about what you might do to enable the process of healthy grieving“.

The book is split into two parts.

Part 1: Recovery

This section is intended for the early days, weeks and months after a major bereavement. The first chapter suggests six strategies for coping in the immediate aftermath:
  • There are no rules, do what you need. 
  • Choose where to focus your attention 
  • Take your time 
  • Feel the pain 
  • Beware of the grief ambush 
  • Reestablish routines 
Further chapters consider ideas such as:
  • Accepting the loss 
  • Noting humans are hard wired to cope - death is normal and most people manage tragedy and trauma quite well, with time. 
  • Noting the secondary losses that come with any major loss - perhaps loss of role, income, dreams, etc. 
  • Choosing to find positive emotions 
  • The usefulness of distraction 
  • Habits of resilient thinking: realistic optimism, redefining hope, and mindfulness 
  • Managing exhaustion and depression through rest and exercise 
  • What family and friends can do to help. This chapter is very helpful for support people, and also includes comments about grief in children 
This was all very useful material. My only thought is that whether someone is likely to have this book and be in a state to read it in those very early days of grief, or able to process the content within. As such, this may be more of a tool for a support person, who can also put it in the grieving person’s hands when they are ready.

Part 2: Reappraisal and renewal

This considers the reality of your life after the loss, so chapters address:
  • Reappraising your brave new world 
  • Facing the future 
  • Continuing bonds 
  • Post-traumatic growth 
  • Rituals and mourning the dead 
The main reason I found this book so helpful was not related to a personal grief story. Rather, I have done a Theories of Grief course at uni this semester. And so forgive me, because this next sentence will mean nothing to many - but for those that have spent time in the field it should make sense. What Hone has managed to do is turn numerous grief theories (e.g., Worden’s tasks of mourning, Attig’s relearning the world, Stroebe & Schut’s Dual Process Model, and Neimeyer’s meaning making concepts); and combine them into an easily understandable explanation that grabs the key elements of each and applies them to her own situation. What I appreciate about the various grief theories is how readily they can interact with & build on each other. Hone has developed her own pictoral grief model - a jigsaw puzzle of interlocking pieces, not linear or circular, but something that keeps needing to be fit together in a way that works for her.

So, Hone has managed to tell her own story of loss and grief, and combine it skilfully with research, producing a book that is both deeply personal as well as being a learning and guiding tool for others - readily accessible for anyone in grief. Each chapter finishes with personal questions to consider for your own situation.

This could be a very helpful guide to those charting their own way through major bereavement. In addition, it would be a valuable addition to anyone who cares for or counsels those in grief.

Friday, November 12, 2021

Burnout

Burnout: A Guide to Identifying Burnout and Pathways to Recovery, Gordon Parker, Gabriela Tavella and Kerrie Eyers

At times, burnout seems to be the buzzword. It’s used often, yet hard to define or quantify. Are you burnt out or burning out? Is it possibly depression? Or exhaustion? Or is there an underlying medical condition? This is a timely book for anyone impacted by burnout, whether personally, or for family and friends, employers or health professionals; with the aim to explain, advance awareness and enable ‘nuanced management recommendations’. It is peppered with personal stories that give meaning and expression to the research and concepts within.

Part 1: What is Burnout? 

They begin by considering the place of burnout in ancient literature (including possibly Moses and Elijah) and its more modern history. They interact with the generally accepted definition of burnout and it’s three factors: energy depletion or exhaustion, negative feeling or cynicism about one’s job, and reduced professional efficacy (this may be the definition you have heard, it’s the one I knew about).

Based on the authors’ research (referred to as the Sydney Studies), they expand the factors at play and propose that the main features include:
  • exhaustion 
  • loss of empathy or perhaps loss of joy 
  • compromised work performance 
  • impaired cognition 
  • that it is different to depression, although there is overlap 
  • that perfectionism heightens the risk (it’s identified as probably the key predisposing risk factor) 
  • that it is a ‘diathesis stress’ condition meaning that some people are predisposed. 
This higher risk due to personality suggests that “escape from work or caregiving pressures may relieve some of the burnout symptoms, but failure to identify and modulate any personality contribution will not allow burnout to be so readily managed, while also increasing the risk of relapse”.

They consider other causes of burnout symptoms (what burnout is not: e.g. chronic fatigue syndrome, anxiety) with much time comparing the symptoms of depression. There is an extensive table comparing melancholic depression (that which arises from inside a person with no seeming trigger), non-melancholic (more responsive to a situation) and burnout. This could be very helpful for health professionals, as well as individuals seeking some clarification.

Part 2: Causes of Burnout

It seems universally acknowledged that a clear cause of burnout is work. But what work causes burnout? Certain professions are linked with high rates of burnout including doctors, nurses, police, lawyers, teachers, managers, and clergy. However, the high rate of burnout in caregivers is now also being more widely recognised.

Interestingly, there is a paradox relating burnout with how one views one’s job: “burnout rates appear lowest in those who work in simply a job, higher in those who view their work as a career and highest in those who whose work is at the level of a ‘calling’”. Let ministry workers have ears to hear.

Then attention is given to the predisposing factors that can increase the risk of burnout, the most prevailing being perfectionism. Others include: neuroticism, having an external (rather than internal) locus of control, a Type A personality, a low sense of self-efficacy and low EQ. They conclude that “the sad thing about burnout is that is more likely to afflict good people”.

Part 3: Overcoming Burnout and Rekindling the Flame

To resolve burnout, three approaches are helpful, with most benefit if all three are addressed:
  • resolve work factors 
  • learn and implement de-stressing techniques 
  • identify and address personality contribution 
Following chapters focus on managers and improving workplace conditions and culture, workers and caregivers (e.g. when to speak up at work, and when to choose to leave), de-stressing techniques (e.g. mindfulness, meditation), and managing perfectionism (with a recommendation for the use of CBT).

They draw all the threads together at the end, with numerous suggestions about how to manage burnout, pointing out that “burnout resolves better with a self-management model” and therefore people can take control and manage it themselves perhaps with some assistance along the way.

Appendices

The appendices include:
  • The Sydney Burnout measure - their proposed diagnostic tool to assess burnout which can be self applied. 
  • A checklist of workplace triggers 
  • A perfectionism scale 
  • An extensive list of various resources (mainly apps and websites) 
All in all, this is a very helpful & relevant book, taking a concept that is widely talked about, but less widely comprehended or qualified, and provides a scaffolding for our understanding, assessment, and treatment of burnout.

Friday, November 5, 2021

A Biblical Counseling Process

A Biblical Counseling Process: Guidance for the Beginning, Middle and End, Lauren Whitman

Whitman is a trained biblical counsellor with the CCEF, and has written this very helpful, succinct resource for those seeking to counsel biblically in a professional way, which also has application for those counselling more informally in pastoral care situations. It’s essentially a primer for newer counsellors, guiding them through the beginning, middle and end of a counselling relationship. In each section, Whitman covers both theory and practice in an easily implementable way. First the theory is outlined with the goals of counsel at that stage, a potential session structure, and topics for the counsellor to be considering. Then, through the use of one main case study throughout the book, she illustrates how to do it in sessions with a real counsellee.

Positive aspects include:
  • Her emphasis on getting to know the client, being personal and adaptable, and empathic. 
  • Working hard to confront any assumptions we might be making about the client, and being aware of our tendency to do so. 
  • Being aware of and acknowledging cultural differences we may have with a counsellee, and seeking to understand their experience. 
  • She models a natural and seamless way to integrate scripture and Jesus with someone’s life experience. (If you want another book that also does this well, try Mike Emlet's CrossTalk)
  • The approach seems to be similar to person-centred cognitive behavioural therapy, with the analysis of feelings, thoughts and responses, and encouraging people to do their own homework between sessions. However, it is integrated with a biblical perspective that acknowledges sin, forgiveness, potential for change and growth in Christ, and a desire to love God and others. 
  • A great reference list is at the end, mainly to articles in the Journal of Biblical Counseling & other CCEF faculty books. 
  • It’s well structured, and easy to read. I read the whole text in a few hours, but there is content I will return to again for reference. 
One note: this book should not operate as a stand-alone tool. It does not make the reader a biblical counsellor. Anyone training to be a biblical counsellor would likely be taught much of the content. So, it will likely function as a simplified reminder of what a counsellor in training would be learning or already know.

In saying that, I am in exactly that position (a trainee counsellor) - and I found it very helpful. It reminded me of much that I already know, but collated in a useful way for future reference and use.

So, this book is aimed at a rather specific audience - the new biblical counsellor - but for them, there is much of value within.


I was given an ecopy of this book in exchange for an honest review.