Today, we feature a popular podcast guest, Thai-An Truong who joins us from Oklahoma. Thai-An is a level 5 Certified TEAM therapist and trainer who specializes in post-partum problems as well as anxiety disorders, with a special focus on OCD.
Today Thai-An describes a TEAM-CBT technique to help with grief. She believes that empathy is always crucial, and emphasizes that people who have lost a loved one need to be encouraged to express and accept their feelings and to make space for their grief. However, because empathy alone may not be enough, it is often helpful to go beyond empathy and offer specialized techniques to help the patient deal with feelings of grief and loss.
In her work specializing in women struggling with post-partum depression, she has seen many women grieving over a loss—such as the loss of a pregnancy, or the loss of a parent when their child is young, or the loss of an infant at birth, or during the first couple months after delivery.
She said that the entire TEAM model can be invaluable, including the initial Testing and Empathy, the Daily Mood Log to detect the grieving patient’s (often distorted) negative thoughts, as well as the Assessment of Resistance (the positive reframing step, and the Methods.
Healthy grief is often complicated by feelings such as depression, guilt, anger, and more. These feelings can complicate and get in the way of healthy grieving.
For example, Rhonda treated a woman who was struggling with guilt over the death of her son, who was in great pain because of advanced, metastatic cancer. At one point, she told him that it was okay to “let go,” and her son died shortly after that. But then, she felt guilty and blamed herself for his death, thinking he might have lived several more days if she had not said that.
Thai-An said that losing a son or daughter is one of the greatest pains a parent can have. You may beat up on yourself with “I should have done X” or “I shouldn’t have said or done Y.” But these negative, self-critical thoughts and feelings will nearly always be expressions of your core values as a human being, and your love for the child you lost. This can sometimes be eye-opening, and a relief for the person who is grieving.
Thai-An has struggled with grief. She told us about the loss of one of her best friends 16 years ago. He was like a brother, a young man with bipolar manic-depressive illness. At times during manic episodes, he would get high and go out “teaching” on the streets. During one of these episodes something tragic happened—Thai-An was unable to find out what—but her friend was found dead in an alley.
Thai-An felt a profound sadness and regret, and to compound the problem, her friend’s mother cut ties with Thai-An, who didn’t even know if a funeral was held or was able to ask any questions about what happened to him.. Thai-An felt understandably hurt and angry,. She recently found out he was buried near a Buddhist Temple in Houston, Texas.
She emphasized the value of maintaining a ritual with the person who has died so as to continue the relationship. For example, a woman had a beautiful baby boy who died of an overwhelming infection shortly after he was born. This woman loves nature, and thinks of her son whenever she gardens. For example, when she sees a little bird, she thinks, “that little bird looks just like him!”
Thai-An feels that a wide variety of rituals can nurture the bond with the person who died. You might light a candle, or even bake a cake for the baby or person you have lost. The goal is not to achieve some kind of “closure” that is so often emphasized in the media, but rather to continue a positive and meaningful relationship with the person you have lost.
Thai-An illustrated a therapeutic technique she calls the Grief Method that involves doing a role-play with the person who has died. The therapist first gathers messages that the grieving patient would like to share with their deceased loved one. The therapist then takes on the role of the patient as the patient takes on the role of the person who has diedThis gives the patient the chance to have a conversation with the love one they have lost.
In the following role play, Rhonda played the role of Sam, the young man who died of overwhelming cancer, and Thai-An played the role of his mother, who was grieving and feeling guilty about her son’s tragic death.
Thai-An (as Mother): Hi Sam, I really miss you every single day.
Rhonda (as Sam): Hi Mom, you’re the person I miss the most.
Thai-An (as Mother): I’m sorry we had an argument shortly before you died.
Rhonda (as Sam): It’s no big deal. . . We got into little fights pretty often. . . but we always got over it.
Thai-An (as Mother): I regret that I left when the doctor told me to leave the room. I should have stayed, so I could be with you when you died.
Rhonda (as Sam): I understood that they pushed you to leave the room, and I know that you would have stayed if they’d let you. . . I was in a lot of pain, and I was ready to leave. You gave me a lot of reassurance. Now I’m with grandma.
Thai-An (as Mother): I would have done everything for you.
Rhonda and Thai-An processed the experience together, and they both cried, even though it was only a role play. Thai-An emphasized the importance of letting your negative feelings flow, and continuing your bond with the person or beloved pet you have lost.
For parents who have suffered the loss of a child, Thai-An recommends the book Shattered: Surviving the Loss of a Child by Gary Roe. To access her free grief training for therapists, you can visit courses.teamcbttraining.com/grief.
This summer, Thai-An will be offering a special 14-week training course (2 hours / week) which will focus on treating individuals and couples with relationship problems using TEAM. For more information on this and other TEAM training courses, go to courses.teamcbttraining.com. .
Thank you for tuning in today!
Rhonda, Thai-An, and David
Dr. Rhonda Barovsky practices in Walnut Creek and Berkeley, California. She sees clients via Zoom, and in her offices. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. She is a Level 5 Certified TEAM-CBT therapist and trainer and specializes in the treatment of trauma, anxiety, depression, and relationship problems. Check out her new website: www.feelinggreattherapycenter.com.