Let’s face it: we live in a move-on culture. The media presents us with endless stories of people who face substantial obstacles—job loss, health setbacks, relationship crises—and who nonetheless emerge triumphant, their problems resolved, or at least their attitude retooled. Onward!
The notion of the quick fix is comforting, of course. But as therapists know, it’s not the norm. Nowhere is this more evident than in the human experience of grief, which is the focus of this issue of the magazine. The topic got our full attention a few months ago, when we heard about the revised edition of the DSM-5 that features a new diagnosis: prolonged grief disorder. Individuals can be said to suffer this malady if, after one year, they still engage in intense yearning for, or preoccupation with, the deceased person, along with a range of other experiences that include loneliness and intense emotional pain.
We wondered about this. Should we really be turning long-held grief into a mental illness? Or might it be an actual disorder, in some cases? Apparently, a lot of therapists are wondering, too: the DSM revision has kicked off something of a controversy in our field, with many clinicians challenging the legitimacy and wisdom of the new diagnosis, and others cautiously supporting it. This issue probes the actual, felt experience of grief and how people attempt to grapple with it on their own timetables, rarely “resolving” their profound sense of loss but learning, often with a therapist’s help, to live with it as best they can.
Of course, grief involves a complex and shifting set of emotions, with plenty of individual nuance. Our authors talk candidly about their own experiences, both as therapists working with grieving clients and as people who have suffered enormous losses themselves. We explore the impact of losing particular people—spouses, siblings, children—as well as how a major life crisis stripped one author of her fundamental sense of safety and normalcy. One clinician traces the complex impact of suicide on family members; another discovers that addressing a client’s grief helped her begin to heal her own.
So wrenchingly honest are these pieces that, at times, our editors found it challenging to submerse themselves in their work. Certainly, this was true for me. As the mother of a toddler, I ached particularly for the author who’d lost her young child. Readers, too, may find some stories difficult. But our own reactions to these pieces are a signal, perhaps, to examine what makes us uncomfortable and to be less focused on ideas about post-traumatic growth and more on simply sitting with people in their sorrow—for as long as is needed.
Editor in Chief
Livia Kent, MFA, is the editor in chief of Psychotherapy Networker. She worked for 10 years with Rich Simon as managing editor of Psychotherapy Networker, and taught writing at American University as well as for various programs around the country. As a bibliotherapist, she’s facilitated therapy groups in Washington, DC-area schools and in the DC prison system. In 2020, she was named one of Folio Magazine’s Top Women in Media “Change-Makers.” She’s the recipient of Roux Magazine‘s Editor’s Choice Award, The Ledge Magazine‘s National Fiction Award, and American University’s Myra Sklarew Award for Original Novel.