Bereavement due to traumatic death

Professional counselling

People bereaved by a traumatic death may feel many emotions, including shock, isolation and loneliness and sometimes anger or even guilt (see ‘Changing emotions and physical reactions’). People often cannot sleep and need help to cope. The people we talked to said that sometimes a prescription for sleeping tablets helped them get through the first few weeks but they didn't want to rely on medication for long.
Friends, families, GPs, charities and support groups provide much help to bereaved people, but after a traumatic bereavement many need more specialised help, which may come through counselling or psychotherapy. Counsellors and psychotherapists work in various ways: some mainly listen, but will probably help people to explore and understand their feelings too. Others ask questions, suggest different ways of thinking about problems or challenge negative thought patterns. 
Counselling is sometimes provided free by the National Health Service but sometimes only after a wait of weeks or months.

Rosemary found her NHS counselling very helpful, but the way in which the GP made the referral...

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Age at interview: 65
Sex: Female
But what I did do as well I had counseling, partly because one of my best friends is a psychotherapist and she said “I think it might be a good idea”, but I found counselling very helpful, I think I found it, I felt the man I got was a funny old chap actually, but I think he let me talk and I think he also, obviously with counselling and I’d never really experienced it before, I was able to talk about things that I, you know, about my family and my background and about James properly, you know, my concerns about him and how we’d, you know, gone through this kind of, you know, breaking the umbilical cord bit, which was very real to me at the time but I have to be, yes I think I was, I found counselling, I mean I had counselling for about, I don’t know four months I think, once a week and I found that very helpful and at the end of the four months he said to me “How are you feeling about this? I said “I think that, I think that you’ve done for me what you can do, you know, I think I’ve, you’ve perhaps allowed me to talk in a way that, I mean I’m much more of an advocate for counselling now than I used to be, to be honest. It enabled me to talk about other things and about James but I began to feel that I was repeating myself, do you know what I mean and it stopped being useful.
So he was a professionally trained therapist, he wasn’t a Cruse counsellor?
No, no, no I went to the doctor and this was the worst experience I had of the whole thing, if you could get doctors not to do this it would be fantastic, I went to see, not my, I mean it’s a large GP practice and I’ve never had much to do with any of them, but the woman I saw, she was a Chinese doctor, she was, I think she’s one of the partners now and I cried and she said, “ Oh you’re obviously suffering from grief” and I looked at her and I thought “Yes, I think I might be” and she referred me to this counsellor and said, “This woman is exhibiting signs of grief,” and she made it sound, she made it sound, it was extraordinary awful, you know, I, she made me feel, In fact the counsellor said to me, “I think I may be having to have words with the practice about this”, you know, the way she’d written the referral, of course, you know, in the way counsellors are he was very non-committal about most things. I have to say that was the worst part of it because I felt like some kind of rather pathetic specimen at that point, you know, and it was just down right unfair frankly and unreasonable and I do get the impression, in fact with the GP who is head of the, he’s the main, I don’t know what they are, he’s a very nice man and actually wrote me a very nice letter, because he’d had something to do with James, I think when he left University because I was a bit concerned about whether he was depressed or not, and so he knew James quite well and so I think he was, he was better but I just got the impression that if that was the standard of the way GP’s dealt with those circumstances, it was really appalling. Because, you know, some of the people I have met, some of the other people who have been involved with the 7th July they’re, you know, they obviously have had appalling problems about getting, you know, leading any kind of normal life and actually, you know, really accepting that you have to try, you know, and perhaps not being able to. I mean because obviously we’ve been, there’s a lot of stuff going on at the moment about the memorial and so forth and some of those conversations are very difficult.
Did the GP refer you to the psychotherapist that you went to?
That was, was it the National Health Service?
Yes it was, it was a National Health Service referral. I mean largely because that’s what this friend of mine suggested I did. I mean she said, “But only do it Rose if you really feel that’s what you want” but I’m glad I did, but the actual process itself was awful, really awful. I mean I really was made to, made to feel that a) was it really necessary, I mean it’s bad enough being told to go and find your own physiotherapist but I did think that on that occasion I thought yes I would like you to refer me please, you know.
Did you have to wait a long time?
No I didn’t have to wait at all actually, I had to, I think I got an appointment the next week actually. And it was all, the actual counselling was fine because the chap, you know, wouldn’t have been everybody’s cup of tea, I can see that, he was quite elderly but I quite liked him.
Did he describe what he did in any particular way, I mean did he talk about Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or anything like that; he didn’t describe himself as a particular kind of counsellor?
No he didn’t, no, I mean in fact actually it was, that was, that was okay but, I mean I think for someone like me who’s lived as long as I have and never done anything like that before perhaps, perhaps slightly more direction would have been better, I don’t know. The benefit I got from it really was just sitting and talking to him, he did ask, to be fair though and I’m  I mean he did ask me some pretty probing questions about the way I felt about things and my relationships with various people, including my mother and things like that but, you know, it wasn’t, I didn’t really I felt that what I got out of it was, because I talked to him, you know, really rather than because he didn’t, he never suggested anything at all really except he did, he did, at one point we came onto the fact that I hadn’t had a dinner party for a long time, I remember I thought and I said I hadn’t really felt like it and he said it might be an idea if I started having them again but anyway, I mean it sounded as if I did it all the time and I do remember that particularly because it struck me as being rather amusing about that I could rush off and make a dinner for somebody [laughter]. But you know I think in the end what, what’s really valuable is having somebody, I mean both the Vicar and the Psychotherapist who, who were not exactly paid to listen to you but were you felt that you could take up their time.
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Alison had to wait months to see a counsellor who specialised in bereavement through trauma. The...

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Age at interview: 37
Sex: Female
Did he [the GP] offer psychological counselling or anything like that?
Yes, he [the GP] decided to put me in touch with people who deal with trauma counselling. And you’ll see from my notes, I think it was September I got my first one.
But it wasn’t my first counselling session; it was a two hour interview to see if I qualified for counselling.
So it was June it happened in so, what’s that? June, July, August, September, so that’s, so it’s three months.
All that time?
To see if I qualified for counselling.
You had to wait all that time?
This was organised by the National Health Service, was it paid for by the National Health Service?
Yes. And then I didn’t actually get my first counselling session till 2 ½ months after that.
Oh dear.
I was offered CRUSE bereavement, which I went to but I didn’t like it because she would say to me, “Oh, you, you’re so brave, it’s been so hard for you.” I don’t like that. I found it really irritating.  And then towards the end of the session, “I know how you feel”. Well, no you don’t actually. And then what happened to me was, was, “I’m sorry I’m not here for that I’m here for purely selfish reasons, for me.” So that’s it, I did two sessions with CRUSE and, and I couldn’t face it again because I didn’t want to hear about her problems.
But then the, the trauma one…
This was special counselling…
...a special, trained professional, trained to look after people who’ve gone through traumatic bereavement?
Yes. I think it would have been an idea if they came to the session after me already telling my life story, knowing the names of my children and where it happened and how it happened…
…that, that would have helped to start. But that didn’t happen so I immediately took a dislike to these people.
So you had to start all over again from…
…the beginning.
But I didn’t bother then. You know, I figured I’d got this far, I don’t need them.
So you went to the one session, you, having waited two, two or three months to be assessed. Then you had to wait another two months to see somebody? And then you didn’t like it?
So, that was the end of that?
So, but you didn’t like it mainly because you felt she wasn’t prepared?
Yes. I think it’s very rude to come along and want me to talk about my children and then not even know their names.
A person’s employer, or college, or a company involved in the incident that led to the traumatic death, may pay for counselling. For example, after Martin’s wife, Steph, was killed by a bus, the bus company paid for some of Martin’s counselling. He was sceptical at first, suspecting that the counsellor was in it for the money, but Martin’s respect for her soared after he learnt that she had retrained as a counsellor after her husband had been killed on the motorway.
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Martin considered suicide. His GP arranged for NHS emergency counselling. Later, the bus company...

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Age at interview: 43
Sex: Male
Yeah, I went to the doctors , about two weeks before Christmas, and just said, “I can’t cope anymore, I can’t face the future without Steph. And bringing these two children up alone,” he put me on some tablets that sent me loopy, and arranged for some emergency counselling, which helped. The lady, I can’t, I can’t remember what team she was from now, but she specialised in this kind of trauma and grief and was recommended to me from, through my GP.
Was that all paid for by the National Health Service?
It was yes.
Did you have to go to the hospital, or go somewhere else?
I had to go, initially it was at my GP’s, and then they found new premises, just near the city centre which was quite easy to get to. That helped.
Did you go once a week or more?
It was from, initially it was once a week because they were quite concerned about me, I was quite, I was quite concerned about me,
I thought I was going crazy.
I’m not surprised. And how long did that counselling go on for?
Let me think, it was about, about a year.
My solicitor who was dealing with the civil case put me in touch with Behaviour, was it Cognitive Behaviour, CBT is it?
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy?
Yes, she put me in touch with a lady who specialises in that. The bus company who’s, well the bus driver had worked for this company, the bus company paid for these sessions, she helped me as well.
So that was seeing a private therapist?
Yes, that had to be paid for.
Do you mind saying a little bit about the behavioural therapy.
No, it was a very nice lady from the Midlands. She travelled all the way up to [this town] to see me specifically. Each session lasted about an hour, and she just let, basically let me pour my heart out, and at the end of it she said, “Well, life’s rubbish isn’t it basically.” And she made me realise that there was nothing wrong with the way I was feeling, there was nothing wrong with feeling suicidal, and there was nothing wrong with thinking you cannot go on anymore. After a few sessions she kind of turned it round, to make me realise that the only way, there’s only two ways out of this, one you can go, you can carry out your threat of suicide or you can get yourself back on your feet, look after your children, face the future and whatever happens in the future, whether it’s meeting someone else, or finding new work, is not wrong, you know it’s okay to do that kind of thing, and you have to, well move on to put it very simply, you have to get on with life, you know you have to, without being callous I know this is going to sound very callous, but you have to leave what happened behind to a certain extent, and face the future, and its, it was okay to feel the way I was feeling.
How many sessions did she have with you?
Before you sort of got to that stage?
About half a dozen.
And then did you go on back seeing her?

Yes, I saw her, I saw her briefly for , let me think, I saw her, I saw her about another half dozen times, and that lasted about a year, so that was from about May 2007 to May this year.
So was that the most helpful thing?
I think so yes. I mean, there came to a point where I had to pay for some sessions myself, well it was very expensive, it’s was about £100 an hour, and we were, but I paid for an extra couple myself, just like a private thing really, just to put my mind at ease about some things I was still feeling, I was glad I did because it did, it did help. So she’s still available, she’s still there if, in case I need her.
Finding a counsellor specially trained in this type of bereavement counselling may be difficult. Some people don't want to wait for counselling. They may decide to choose their own counsellor and pay for it themselves. After Dorothy’s son was killed in an explosion at work, she was consumed with anger. She saw an NHS psychiatrist but he said he could not help her because she was grieving, not mentally ill. She decided to pay for counselling herself.

Dorothy couldn’t sleep and was having flashbacks after her son was killed. Her husband was very...

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Age at interview: 65
Sex: Female
I was consumed with rage. In fact so much so that I think possibly at that time I could happily and quite easily have gone out and killed the man who killed my son. It became a kind of overwhelming feeling, and my husband actually was quite worried because he thought I would do it, so I went to a counsellor, a private counsellor, I went to a counsellor then, and she was excellent.
Was she a professional counsellor?
Yes, yes,
How did she describe her sort of counselling, did she talk about any sort of particular therapy?
She probably did yes, she probably did, but to tell you the truth I can’t really remember, because you know, you’re brain tends to sort of just shut down, I just knew I needed, I needed to talk to somebody out with the family, you know that I could say all the things that I wanted to say, at that time, because the rage was just taking over.
This was mainly listening?
She was listening, yes. She was mainly listening. And she made me kick things, and punch things and you know get it out that way. And eventually I kind of got to the point where I thought well what’s the point of killing him, it would possibly give me some satisfaction, some momentary satisfaction, but it would just bring more grief on the family so..
Did you have to pay for that counselling?
Yes, yes. Uhuh. No, there was no help from the, no help from the NHS at all, and don’t get me wrong, my doctor here  but we were living down, we were living down south, the south of England, but my doctor here is, I mean he’s a very nice, in fact he gave me some diazepam at the beginning, but he said, “I don’t want you to get into the habit of that.” So I had a couple of diazepam, just for the first two or three weeks.
Did you ever explore the idea of getting more counselling, paid for by the National Health Service?
I did, I went to the doctor, he sent me to, oh I can’t remember, to a clinic, I saw a psychiatrist, one visit and I explained it all to him, and he said, “You know,” he said, “Really,” he couldn’t help because  he said, “You’re not suffering any kind of mental illness,” he said, “You’re not suffering from a depression” he said, “You’re, you’re suffering from grief”, and he said, “And I can’t really, I can’t really help.” So that was, that was really. I had no counselling with the NHS, again you know, I don’t know because I know other people have had NHS counselling you know where they’ve lost someone you know through cancer or through whatever, so it’s very different, the whole experience of losing someone where it’s a death at work, is totally different.
How many sessions did you have with the counsellor privately?
I think I probably had about 10 sessions with her.
So that was quite expensive.
It was, uhuh. I also went to a hypnotherapist  telling a lie, the hypnotherapist came here, to the house, that was expensive also, it was £60 a session. But that was wonderful, you know. But it was mainly, again it was specific, I was having flashbacks, I couldn’t, you know, when I slept I just saw Mark being consumed by flames, so I couldn’t sleep I would sit up at night drinking coffee or whatever, so that was specifically counselling, it was hypnotherapy and we concentrated on relaxation techniques, and being able to try and get these flashbacks out of my mind, and it was quite successful, and she, you know, she sort of showed me how to relax, partly so that was, that was again it was just specifically for that, for that purpose.
Did she put you in a state of hypnosis?
Yes. Yes.
And it helped you to think back, think in a different way?
No, it was, it was mainly the kind of, putting me in a place where I felt comfortable and relaxed and able to feel, not quite happy but peaceful, basically.
How many sessions did you have to have with her?
Again I probably had about 10.
And that helped a little bit?
It did, it helped with the sleep, and the flashbacks, but then obviously you know the flashbacks have tended to come back, while we were going through the evidence for the, preparing for the inquest, you know, reading it all, I began to get these flashbacks back again during the night.
I’m so sorry.
Anyway that’s difficult. 
People may seek counselling or psychotherapy immediately after the death or months or years later. Counsellors or psychotherapists may be attached to a GP’s practice or a hospital or a bereavement counselling service, or they may have their own private practice. Some professional therapists work as volunteers for various charities.

Sarah thought that she would have a 3-month wait to see the counsellor attached to her GP’s practice but she was fast tracked and saw the counsellor a few days later. The counsellor helped Sarah to recognise that bereavement from a traumatic death can differ from other bereavements.

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Sarah saw a counsellor attached to her GP's surgery, who used neurolinguistic programming...

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Age at interview: 62
Sex: Female

And where have you found help for yourself at?

I see a counsellor, in February or March when I started getting really bad, I was at my GP just for an ordinary smear, and I said I think I’m going phone to Cruse or something like that, one of these people that you have the names of, I could do with talking to somebody about this, and they said, “Oh we’ve got somebody in the practice.”
Oh that was good.
There was a three month waiting list, but I said, “Oh put my name down anyway because I think I could do with something.” And I got home from work that day and there was a phone call that said, “The doctor thinks it would be a good idea if he saw you now. Come on Tuesday”.
Oh that was good, so that’s paid for by the National Health Service?
That’s paid for, no actually, the GP himself employs this person.
What so the practice?
The practice, the practice does yes, and they’re not a, I am an anti counsellor person, I don’t know what you know, but I was always very sceptical about this contemplating your navel, but she described herself as a Heinz 57 varieties, and it was a lot of different skills, and she has the most incredible, she messes with my mind if you like,
Does she, does she call it anything? Does she give it a label?
I think its…
Cognitive behavioural therapy, or something like that?
Something like that; neuro-linguistic programming I think.
Oh right.
And I’ll give you an example of the very first thing she did with me, which she copies in very similar things. One of the children decided to have his children christened thinking, “Let’s cheer Mum up with a happy family event.” Without actually realising how traumatic; this was about five months after Russell died, and I at one stage thought I can’t even go to this event, because it was putting me in a church, with the couple with the children, and the wife’s parents standing there, and me on my own with my big tall son beside me. And how can I do that? I can’t, simply cannot do that and in a public place and maybe cry, I can’t do it, , very panicky about it. And she did a thing which was she had me visualise what it looked like, and then slowly over a period of two or three minutes I walked back to the church, so the visual image got smaller and then turned it into a black and white photograph and then it was no longer straight in front of me, she had me go to the back corner of the church, so it was off centre, and by then I was too far away to see properly and I actually felt the whole tension draining out of me while I actually did that, as I did this visualisation thing, or imaginary, visual you know, and that took away the kind of anxiety I had about it, and I was able to cope with it.
She did that before you went to it?
Yes, absolutely yes. So I was able to think about it, and think yes, I can go to this christening, and then the other daughter got married. She got engaged two weeks before he died and then got married a year later and a similar thing, “How can, how can I go to a wedding and marry my daughter, our daughter, without him, it’s criminal, it’s wicked it should not be happening.” And then a bit of blame for the bloke who caused, made this situation arise, and again she did a similar thing with that, and she does a lot of a very clever things about how your imagine, how you visualise things, it’s very clever. Very clever.
So can you give me the, another example of the wedding, did she make you think about it in a different way as well?
No, we talked about how to have him there, and the different ways to have him there, and so we did actually have a photograph on the table, with some beautiful flowers, not in front of me, off side, off side, so that he was there but I didn’t have to look at him, because if I’d looked at him it would have made me cry. But in fact when it, and then we’d talked about what I’d think about and how I would think and as a result the wedding was a, a, well they were definitely, it was a happy day.
So she helped you change the way you might think about it?
Absolutely, completely and utterly. Yes. So it’s not a, it’s not a contemplate your navel, and how do you feel about things. It’s strategies for coping.
So she’s professionally trained?
Oh incredibly professionally trained, incredibly professionally trained. And I don’t think I could have survived , well of course I would have done but she has enabled me to, and when I have issues that I have to deal with…
Can you still go and see her?
I can see her for as long as, the words are, “for as long as I like, whenever I want.” Well not whenever I want, I can go about once a month, every five or six weeks. But because of the trauma round about the second anniversary she did say if I wanted I could ring her up, and after the, that trauma she was able to put things into perspective, so she’s very clever.
That’s good.
And I would, I would recommend it to everybody.
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The counsellor understood Sarah's emotions and allowed her to feel 'really awful'. She understood...

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Age at interview: 62
Sex: Female
The other big thing she [the counsellor] does, again picked up from reading, from me reading the books, she validates my emotions, and so when I say I’m feeling this, that or the other, she says, “That’s right. Yes, of course you are.” You know. And there’s quite a lot about the child within and say, yes, you deserve to be nice to yourself, you know, you are suffering. Whereas all the time I’m very often saying, you know, pull yourself together and behave.
Whereas she allows me to feel really, really awful and I do have a big hang up about time, because when my parents died you kind of think well the first year's the worst and then after that you know you get on with life, and to be honest year two for me in some ways was worse than year one. And what she, she says well that’s right because of this whole, the whole kind of traumatic bit does put you in a separate place, and there isn’t such a thing as a timescale for it, it’s as long as it takes. And I’m setting unreal expectations. 
Susanna explained how the huge police investigation into the Bali bombing affected her bereavement experience. It was important to have counselling from someone who had trained in trauma and incident counselling.

Victim Support provided a counsellor trained in trauma incident counselling. Counselling was free...

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Sex: Female
…the family liaison officer had put me in touch with Camden Victim Support, and I got allocated a counsellor who was really very good and had got some training in traumatic incident counselling.
Was she doing it as a volunteer?
Yes, I think so, but she was really fantastic, a maverick but that in a way helped, because we weren’t as a, as a group we weren’t really formally offered counselling for two years, because in so many ways all the institutions were completely unprepared for Bali. The Foreign Office was unprepared for it, didn’t know what to do. The British Government didn’t know what to do. All sorts of organisations were just not, were just caught completely off guard, and took a long time to galvanise. And in the meantime a lot of damage got compounded arguably. One of the extraordinary things about an event such the traumatic, I mean people have often asked what’s the difference between, losing somebody in a bombing and a, a different sort of bereavement. I think one of the things that, I mean death is, everybody’s death is loss, an equal loss and there is no hierarchy in bereavement, but there are particular aspects that come out of a terrorist bombing, one of course it’s a crime, it’s murder. There’s a massive police investigation. Two, identification of survivors and bodies and victims is quite a complex thing, and isn’t always very straightforward. I know that some people had to wait a very long time just before Christmas and I think the last British person was identified, formally identified as being dead. And the legal aspects of what happens when a load of young, young, young people, most of them, most of the people being British, the British who were killed were between 18 and 35, they were all killed in the middle of their lives, most of them hadn’t got wills, and so there was a huge, and they never knew they were going to die, so they were killed in the middle of their lives, completely unprepared. And there were huge problems sorting all of that out.
How long did you go on having counselling, sort of regular counselling for?
Probably a year.
Was that weekly?
No, bi-monthly, because I had to pay for it.
Did you?
Oh. So victim support…
Oh the first, no the first, the first six months I think were free and then the counsellor left Victim Support, so, and I followed the counsellor.
So she was doing it on a voluntary basis to start with?
Yes, and then, yes. So, but I mean, essentially you’re pretty much on your own.
During individual counselling the counsellor sees a client in a private and confidential setting and explores their distress or other difficulties. Not everyone bereaved by a traumatic death will want or even need counselling or psychotherapy' support from family or friends may be enough, but research suggests that it can benefit those who do seek professional help. Clients often use the terms counsellor and psychotherapist interchangeably. A trusting relationship with the counsellor or psychotherapist is crucial.

Most people who had had individual counselling had found it beneficial. Cynthia said that counselling helped her to make time to think about herself. Jayne also said that counselling made her realise that she was a victim too, and that Jonathan’s death had badly affected her life. Jayne saw a Cruse counsellor who was invaluable, and she also saw a counsellor who worked for another voluntary bereavement service. Some people who were at first sceptical about counselling had been surprised how useful it was.

Jayne saw a bereavement counsellor who helped her to explore how Jonathan’s death had affected...

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Age at interview: 44
Sex: Female
And then when I came back into the country, it was the one year anniversary, and I’d come back to give evidence to Jon’s enquiry. The enquiry into what had happened to him, and I found myself roaming the streets of North London, and I realised that I was near the mortuary. I don’t know how I found it I didn’t look it up or maybe I did, maybe I did, but my memory is I used to walk around the mortuary, and there used to be squirrels there, and they’d come up really, really close and it was an old cemetery as well, and I found myself up there quite a few times near the first year anniversary, and as I was walking home one day I passed a Victim Support Office, and I knocked on their door, and a lady answered and she said, “Can I help?” And I said, “Yes my husband’s been murdered, I need to talk to somebody.” And she invited me in, and she sat with me and I used to carry photographs of Jon everywhere, even if I got in a cab I’d show the cab driver photographs of him, and she went through the photographs, she just let me sit, and she let me talk and she referred me then to the voluntary bereavement services. So she sort of held me together until my referral you know came up and I saw somebody on a more permanent basis.
Was that organised by CRUSE as well.
No that was bereavement voluntary services, and I saw a lady there for about two years maybe, yes, I used to see her,
And for how long did she let you talk?
Well it was an, I mean I’d begun to campaign at that time, you know I’d become quite public because of the enquiry and everything, but it was somewhere that I could go that just allowed me to, it’s almost as if what you do is you carry around with you, you, you, you’re functioning and people look at you and they see that you’re functioning and I was working very, very hard at the time, and its almost as if you open a door and you walk into it, and you say, “This is, this is the horror of what I’ve been carrying with me. Here it is,” and you know they’re not going to say, “Well let’s put the kettle on and talk about something else.” They really, you know, what that experience of victim support has done, and the voluntary bereavement service did for me, and subsequent counsellors, is just they have the capacity to sit down and listen to what you’re carrying around with you. Because if you, you can’t, it’s almost like you can’t feel it in everyday life, because you wouldn’t be able to function, so it’s as if somebody has; opens the door for you and says well, “Well?” You know? Lets you know, lets you explore how it’s affecting your life. But I think it took a long, long time for me to realise, years in fact, I was really, really focussed on what had happened to Jon, you know that this was a young man who had lost his life, he was in the prime of his life, you know he was a professional drummer, he had so much ambition and creativity, and then it must have taken over five years when it suddenly started to, even more than that, it just suddenly started to dawn on me, hang on a minute, something’s happened to me as well. I didn’t really sit down and think, this has happened to me, you know, oh I’ve been made homeless, oh I’ve lost my husband, oh, you know? I’m bereft, or you know, I didn’t, it didn’t really dawn on me that I was a secondary victim or a survivor, all I could think about for a long, long period of time was perhaps having some more dignity for Jon, because he died so publicly and so violently and indiscriminately, he, he was almost obsolete. Do you know what I mean?

He just, it was just another statistic, you know? And I was very, very concerned that Jon had some dignity in his death really, that people realised the kind of man who had died and that his death in my eyes was preventable, and predictable because the man who had killed him had been violent in the past. I mean it was almost like saying, “Hang on a minute, there’s this major event that’s happened in my life, to Jon. I want you to know about it, and I want you to take it as seriously, as seriously as you can.” You know, and that’s where my energy was taken up, and it took me a very, very long time to think, hang on a minute Jayne, something’s happened to you. And then to start to look at that, really, and to realise the kind of impact it had had on me.
So was the counsellor a professional trained person?
Or a volunteer?
No. She was a, she was a volunteer but she was a professional.
Professional trained?
Yes. Yes. She was an expert, you know, and she was very warm and welcoming and she wasn’t, you know the, the feelings that I described about people being overwhelmed. You know that, the feeling that you have are so raw that people don’t know what to say, and people don’t know what to do and you know people start saying to you, “You need to move on now.” You know people do say things like that, in fact even after a short period of time, but you go into a counselling situation with somebody who is an expert, and they will be able to bear witness to that, you know, that they will, they will let you, you will feel safe enough to show how raw you can possibly feel following something like this.
Did she visit you or did you have to go somewhere?
I went there.
They had their offices somewhere?
Yes. Yeah I went there once a week and I only left because she was leaving. I wouldn’t have stopped the relationship with her; I would have continued to go. But she left.

Michael decided to have some professional counselling because he found it hard to talk about...

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Age at interview: 52
Sex: Male
I think about, oh, nearly a year after Lewis had died, I decided that maybe I needed counselling, and I approached the counsellor at the time and I went for I think it was twelve sessions, and this was done once a week, and it took about an hour.
Was this NHS counselling?
NHS counselling. Yeah.
Did you go to the hospital for that?
I went to the hospital yeah. It was the same hospital that had treated Lewis.
And what happened during a typical session?
Well we talked about, you know, how Lewis was killed, and my feelings towards the people that had caused his death.
And just, you know, how I was coping with it and, you know, she made me do stuff like drawings and things that at the time I thought to myself well this, this is stupid, you know, it’s getting nowhere. But towards the end, it, it, it’s like a jigsaw puzzle, it started to all fit together then, and so it did help me, and my son was having counselling as well, and we were sort of at the same time, you know different days obviously but we did that and then we sort of encouraged my wife to have it, you know, and she sort of, as we finished she was just starting hers, I think I was having two sessions and my wife had done about two then, but she, she, her, her sessions went on a bit longer than ours. But I think all in all it was good, you know, and it did help.
So that was professional counselling with the NHS?
It was professional counselling with the NHS, yes, yes.
I think just trying to get back to some sort of normality was hard. It was difficult; I found I couldn’t speak to my wife about what had happened to Lewis, and that’s what prompted me to do the counselling because I just wouldn’t speak about Lewis, I wouldn’t you know, I wouldn’t discuss things, it was just oh saying his name, it brought great pain back you know. All the feelings would come back and like most men, most men don’t like to cry, and I would find that just the mention of his name I would start you know filling up and ready to cry. I’d have to say the first two years was really hard, I wouldn’t say you get better at it, you just get better at dealing with it as time goes through. It still hurts as much today as it did back then, and we’re talking about 5 years ago. It’s a pain that’s always there, it’s always just under the surface you know, and it can be anything that brings it off, it could be a sad film, it could be something happening to something, something you say and you just start, but…
Did you allow yourself to cry sometimes?
I didn’t at first. It was really only when I went to the counselling and you know, and she said to me, “Don’t be ashamed you know, you know, its, it’s everybody’s right to cry and grieve over the death of one of their kids.” And I found, I found well, I found it hard to cry in front of somebody but as the counselling sessions were going on, every counselling session I cried, I think probably the only one I didn’t cry was the last one. Although I would be upset, but it was going through that process, of letting your feelings out, I found the hardest, I, I’ve always been a person for keeping personal things to myself and not showing emotion. When my brother was killed, you know, I don’t think I actually cried for that either. I went, the other side, I went to do the practical things, I went to sort out the death certificates, and the funeral arrangements and I got myself busy with that.
Why do you think you felt you couldn’t cry?
I don’t know. I, maybe it’s a man thing. I just, didn’t want somebody else to see me in tears you know. I’m a man you know, I should be sort of stronger with my feelings and hold it back. But that’s the hardest thing and it’s probably the worst thing to do.
I’ve now since learned that you let your feelings go. You know, it’s okay to cry, and sometimes I do.
And can you talk about Lewis with your wife and family now?
I can now, yes. I mean we talk about things that you know, things that happened in the past, we talk about things that, that happened now, and we say well, Lewis would’ve done this, and Lewis would’ve done that, so yes, it’s easier to talk about now, because it’s not bottled up anymore. You know I’ve taken the cap off.
So the counselling really helped you with that?
The counselling did help yes. And I, and I was a skeptic, I did think that, you know talking about my son’s death wouldn’t be any help, but there’s so much more to it than that.
Terri said that after Ben was murdered she saw a counsellor, who used Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and visualisation. Terri was convinced that she was going to die. The CBT helped her to change the way she thought ("Cognition") and what she did ("Behaviour)". During visualisation people use the power of their imagination to help relieve symptoms, manage problems, and relax.

Terri saw a bereavement counsellor for 12 weeks. The CBT and visualisation helped her to cope...

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Age at interview: 43
Sex: Female
Do you get any professional counselling?
I did. I went, I went to the local centre and I saw a lovely lady for 12 weeks.
Was that paid for by the National Health Service?
Yes, it was paid, the police I think paid for it, yeah.
Did they? And can you describe what happened? Did they say it was any particular sort of counselling?
Bereavement counselling.
And I saw a lady who did some  what you call CBT, cognitive behavioural therapy, and visualisation, to help me relax.
So I would sit there and close my eyes and pretend, say I was on a beach somewhere, because I was stressed all the time and like I said my heart palpitations and things. Talked a lot about the grieving process. And, and how it was affecting me and my children and things. She’s really good. She just listened. I did most of the talking. And she sort of guided me. I don’t know what I would have done without her to be honest.
I think that’s really important. Can you, cognitive behavioural therapy, can you explain a little bit more about what actually happened during a session?
She well I had a phobia that I was going to  it sounds daft now but I kept thinking that I was going to die.
I had this terrible fear of death all of a sudden. And I used to go to bed at night and have my mobile and the landline by the bed because I was convinced that I was going to have a heart attack in the night. This just came out of grief. They said it was grief that had caused it, because I’ve never had any problems like that before. I was also frightened of getting in the bath because it, I don’t know where that came from, I just, I always had this thing that something was going to happen to me while I was in the bath. It was bizarre really what, what you’re brain does to you. And it was all to do with my heart and it was because everybody kept saying, “Oh, you’ve got a broken heart”. And she said that this is where this heart thing’s come from. “You’re thinking broken, it’s not going to mend and something’s going to happen”.
So she used to say to me, and it sounds daft but it worked, “Whenever you get a flutter in your chest, point to your heart and say, ‘Look, stop it now, there’s nothing wrong with you and I’m getting on with the rest of the day’”. And I did. And I used to feel daft. I used …
And you felt daft?
Yes, I used to get in the bath and think, flutter, flutter, flutter, it was anxiousness. Because I look back now and I know, but at the time I didn’t, and say, ‘Right, enough’. And she said, “Take the phone away from the bedside cabinet. Nothing’s going to happen to you. Take your phone away because the fact that it’s there and you’re rolling over in the night and seeing it and then it’s bringing you back to the fact that you think something bad’s going to happen”.
So I did everything that she told me and it worked.
She helped you to think in a different way.
Yes, yes.
And then the visualisation? She …
That was just helping me relax. There’d be, what, one session I’d be on the beach somewhere, another time it would be walking through the woods and there’d be a stream and lots of green grass and sunshine. And just to take your mind off things.
It sounds really good.
Yes, she was great.
Counselling or psychotherapy did not suit everyone. Matthew felt that there was no easy way to deal with the loss of his brother and preferred to manage on his own. Adam met three different counsellors after his brother died, but didn't find counselling particularly helpful.

Adam had three different counsellors. It felt good talking to the counsellors, but the feeling...

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Age at interview: 22
Sex: Male
How have you found help for yourself? Did you go to your GP or did you seek any counselling?
I did have counselling, because people were a bit worried that I wasn’t facing it, because, because I wasn’t grieving very much, or, I wasn’t openly grieving and crying and a sobbing wreck like most of my family. Well, my Mum in particular.
Who arranged that counselling? Was it the NHS?
Two of my counsellors were from my college because I was a student nurse at the time. And one was from my GP’s surgery. And I didn’t find them particularly helpful. I tried, I tried the counselling because I thought well it might help. And I always found that for the time I was there I would talk to them about, I’d try and focus to talking about Lloyd rather than other problems that are going on and things like that, but I always found that, yes, I felt really good because I got it off my chest, and that feeling would last for about an hour until I got home, sat down, had a cup of tea, and then it would be back to normal, you know, it wouldn’t have really made a difference. And I tried it for a couple of months, and you know after going through three counsellors none of them really helped me that much, you know, not for want of them trying you know it’s not their fault it’s just me in particular, how I deal with things. I didn’t find it particularly helpful.
Were they professionally trained?
Yes, they were professionally trained counsellors. Even the ones at college they were properly trained counsellors. Obviously the one through the GP’s surgery she was properly trained.
Lisa was deeply traumatised by the deaths of two of her friends and had mental health problems for many years. She saw a psychiatrist and was offered group psychotherapy, but she didn't find this helpful. However, she was also offered individual art therapy, one to one, which suited her. She also tried other complementary therapies, such as Reiki. Eventually Lisa found a healer at a local spiritualist church. One of the healers from the church put his hands on her shoulders and on her head and made her feel warm and relaxed. Lisa felt that he had restored her soul (see ‘Religion and spirituality’)

Group psychotherapy did not suit Lisa. She found herself trying to help other people when she...

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Sex: Female
Group psychotherapy was not so good. People… I seemed suited, with my personality, I help other people and I’m not one for asking for it for myself too much. So I found myself helping other people. But to me I was desperately trying to stay alive. And they were talking about irrelevant things like their mother not liking the curtains that they’d just made. And I’m just thinking, “Get real. I’m just gripping on and what are you on about?” [Laughs].
So what happens in group psychotherapy, could you explain?
It was, it was just silly to me.
How many people sat round?
There were four or five of us.
The therapist would just sort of open it up and it.. maybe she’d sit there in silence for a while and just wait for somebody to speak [laughs]. It could just be like who’s going to go then? And then people would just bring up what was bothering them that particular week. And it could be something really petty. They, the rest of the group just could not get where I was coming from. There was one other girl and she was trying to stay alive as well. She hadn’t gone through what I’d gone through. But you know she had her own things that were very serious and she was trying to stay alive. Me and her, we were like, “What is… this is just silly.” And then we’d, we both got art therapy separately, one to one. So that was good.
Did you have any individual psychotherapy?
No, that wasn’t available. There was a waiting list for that… so… yeah, at that time. I had to wait for the art therapy too. But that can through a lot quicker and that was a better thing for me.
So there was no individual counselling or psychotherapy available for you?
Well psychotherapy’s different to counselling anyway.
But there was none available not for a while no, no.
Not free on the national, national health services?
After Marcus’s fiancée was murdered in 1987 he became depressed and suffered from what he believes was post-traumatic stress disorder. Since then Marcus has seen many psychiatrists, and he spent 12 years going to art therapy, which helped. In 2009 he attended a programme called Escaping Victimhood. This programme aims to help those suffering the consequences of serious crime, such as murder or manslaughter, to find the resources and motivation to regain control of their lives so that they can begin to enjoy life again. The programme is made up of an introductory evening, a residential workshop and a follow-up day. One-to-one counselling and therapy is available during the programme.

Marcus attended the programme Escaping Victimhood, an intense course but very uplifting and very...

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Age at interview: 38
Sex: Male
Only a year ago I was invited onto course called, ‘Escaping Victimhood’, which I’m sure you’ll find the details on the website at the end of this interview. But I found that an absolute… for me it was like getting into a jet aircraft, it took me from where I am now into the future. And the support and help from the professionals on that course are second to none. And at the moment I… I am going to represent ‘Escaping Victimhood’ in the future. It’s a positive course, open to all. Unfortunately it needs government backing. And there are only twenty-four places as far as I know available in one year. And I was fortunate enough to be one of them a year ago.
Is that a day course?
No it’s a residential course, which lasts three to four days.
And one of which is taking place in London very shortly. It’s a very positive course for people bereaved by murder and manslaughter, and one that should be available to a lot of people. But I think by clicking on, onto the website you’ll be able to find more information about this.
And then people can apply to go onto it?
Yes they can.
Do you want to just sum up what actually happens during those four days?
During the four days on the ‘Escaping Victimhood’ workshop, they take you from where you now, through various processes of your own psychology, and the circumstances which have led you to go on that course.
You get one to one attention?
Yes. It’s a group course but also one, one to one. It’s a very intense course, but also very relaxing and very uplifting.
Are they professional people running it?
They’re, they are very professional.
Are they psychologists, psychiatrists?
Psychologists. We have an expert on posttraumatic stress disorder there. And all the, the support network of ‘Escaping Victimhood’ in my opinion is second to none.
And it really is worth pursuing if you are the unfortunate person to be like me who is a victim of murder or manslaughter.
Do they keep in touch with you afterwards or is it just a one of?
Yes. Afterwards there is a follow up weekend, which is to find out… there’s a number of weeks, how you’ve progressed after your workshop. And the twelve people on that course I’m still very friendly with, all the people. And very recently we spent a weekend together. So it’s a very uplifting, very bonding sort of course.

Last reviewed October 2015. 
Last updated October 2011.

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