How to Deal With the Death of a Patient

by Natalie Shay | Follow on Twitter

What you are grieving is something important, a loss that has changed your world in some way.

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THE HARDEST SITUATION I HAVE BEEN IN throughout my practice was losing a client to a terminal illness. I was aware of his condition when he started working with me, but it did not change the challenge I faced when I heard of his passing.

When you lose a patient you will have many different emotions that arise. All these feelings are important to acknowledge and validate. Some of the more common ones are sadness, anger, fear and shock. The strongest one that tends to come up for practitioners is guilt. You may regret or feel guilty that you could not have helped your patient more, even if there was nothing more you could have done.

Grieving and distress is a normal state that practitioners have to face when helping patients heal. It is important that you allow yourself the ability to feel these emotions and be able to speak to a colleague, supervisor or a therapist about it. It is also critical to be able to let yourself work through these changes. Here are some helpful ways to start the process. These self-care tips are a great way to start managing the array of different emotions.

7 Steps for Grieving the Loss of a Patient

1. Feel it

Allow yourself to be numb and in shock. Don’t fight it. In these situations, there isn’t a lot people can say, so it’s time to allow yourself to feel. Tune into your body. When you feel some discomfort breathe into that area and allow emotions to come out. Breathing through it will help the intensity pass. You may want to cry, or yell. Whatever comes up for you, allow without judgment.

2. Notice your judgment

If you are busy criticizing yourself start noticing what you are saying. Start tracking your negative thoughts. If thoughts of blame start to appear, write it down and remind yourself it isn’t your fault.

3. Lean on people

Be proactive and write down the names of a few people to call when you want to cry or are struggling with your thoughts and emotions. Obviously, confidentiality is important, so choose people you are able to speak with. This could include colleagues, peer support groups, a supervisor or therapist. Remember that your grief is your own. Don’t let anyone tell you how to feel or when you should “get over it”.

4. Don’t sit alone

Surround yourself with people you feel loved by and most comfortable with when you find yourself struggling. You don’t have to go into great detail, but let them know you want company and you are going through a hard time.

5. Write it out

Write a letter to the person or situation you are grieving about. You may wonder what the purpose is if they cannot hear you, but I promise it will feel good! You will be able to tell them something you wish you had said, either positive or negative.

6. Get closure

Read the letter out loud and let yourself feel your feelings. This will help you grow as a practitioner. Losing your first client will be one of your biggest challenges, especially as one of the primary healers.

7. Ask for help

If you are finding it too hard to cope on your own seek professional help. You may need to take a little time off work depending on how much the loss has affected you. Take the time you need and remember this too shall pass.

Throughout this process, remember to be gentle with yourself. What you are grieving is something important, a loss that has changed your world in some way. You won’t always feel the way you do right now, but in order to get to a better place, you need to let yourself grieve. The sooner you deal with the feelings, the sooner you will be able to heal.

About the Author
Natalie Shay

Natalie Shay is a Psychotherapist and Life Coach specializing in emotional eating. She struggled with her own weight for 20 years. She finally learned to stop dieting and lost 75 lbs. In 2007 she became a Registered Psychotherapist to help emotional eaters stop turning to food for comfort and lose weight without dieting. She helps support her clients and guides them to meet their goals to stop dieting and start living. **Want to support your clients to get off the diet roller coaster, stop eating emotionally, and lose weight? Get them to sign up for my Emotional Eating Toolkit.