When I told somebody I was writing this article, they asked me this question: isn’t your website, www.AfterTalk.com, a form of grief therapy? The answer is yes, it is, but it’s not a cure-all. We believe AfterTalk can help you process your grief in several ways that are beneficial, but many of you could benefit from the intervention of a trained professional and/or participation in a support group, whether it be in person or online. AfterTalk.com has forums that can serve as online grief support groups; its Private Conversations and Family & Friends sections are therapeutic, and can be a great adjunct to talk therapy with a professional.
If you are dealing with grief, I am a strong believer in getting professional help in times of great challenge. If you are sued you call a lawyer, right? If you experience severe pain you call a doctor, right? And if you find ghosts in the attic, who do you call? The same principle applies to grief. If you are feeling that grieving for a loved one is interfering with your ability to move on and function fully, it’s time to get help
Professional one-on-one counselors take many forms, including psychiatrists, psychologists, psychotherapists, social workers, clerics, nurses, nurse practitioners, and people trained and certified specifically to help the grieving. Cost is one thing that separates them. The preceding list is roughly in descending order of cost. If price is not a factor, how do you choose between these services?
Let’s start with psychiatrists. There are psychiatrists who specialize in the grieving. I was treated by a psychiatrist who specialized in cancer victims and their survivors. I began while my wife was in her final weeks, and continued for a year afterward. It changed my life for the better in many ways. There is one major advantage to seeing a psychiatrist; because they are M.D.s, can prescribe medication If you are having trouble sleeping or feel you are deeply depressed you should consider a doctor-supervised drug regimen. There’s no shame in it, and it’s not forever. I went on antidepressants and it helped enormously. Then I stopped, and I am still fine. What you are experiencing is a form of pain, only it’s in your mind instead of your body; there’s nothing wrong with taking the right drugs to manage pain.
People put a lot of stock in the doctors being “board certified.” Board certified physicians have to adhere to higher standards of training and continuing medical education; however, psychiatrists are board certified by subspecialty, like Child and Adolescent Psychiatry or Addiction Psychiatry; there is no sub-specialty in grief or bereavement psychiatry, so I’m not sure it really matters.
Let’s talk about how to wend your way through this system. The best way to start is to get a referral from your personal physician. If you are involved with your religious community, you might ask your clergyman whom they would recommend. Physicians and clergy deal with the bereaved constantly and since they have an ongoing relationship with mourners, often get valuable feedback on the providers they have referred people to. If your loved one died in a hospital, ask the social work department for a referral psychiatrist.
Ask yourself if a close friend or relative has gone through a profound loss and seems to be doing well. If you have someone who fits this, ask them if they received professional help and from whom. Ask a few people whom you trust. If a name comes up several times, check them out.
How? Go to your computer or get a relative with good online skills to help you. If you are researching a psychiatrist, websites like www.Vitals.com and www.Healthgrades.com . Both offer comprehensive information on all doctors in your geographic area. I find I get better results with Healthgrades, so let’s use it as an example:
- Enter “Psychiatry” in the search box; it should automatically pick up your zip code, but if you are away from home, enter it in the next box over.
- Read the Overview tab and the Patient Satisfaction Tab information.
If you are impressed with what you read, do two things before you dial the phone for an appointment:
- First, check out the sections on “Sanctions,” “Malpractice,” and “Board Actions.” Any red flags will be obvious.
- Second, especially if you are on a budget, check the Appointments and Offices Tab, scroll down, and note what insurance the office accepts. If you see your company, say, Oxford, click on it and see which Oxford plans are accepted.
You can work this whole process in reverse if insurance coverage is an issue.
- Go to your insurer’s website [let’s use Oxford as an example]
- Log in. If you haven’t set up an online account, do so. It’s very useful. Call them for help if you have trouble doing it; all you need to have handy is your insurance card.
- Once you’ve logged in, look for the “Find a Doctor” button. This will take you to a form where you need to enter your zip code and the specialty, in this case ‘Psychiatry.’
- This is important: After you’ve found someone who is on your plan, go back to www.healthgrades.com and look them up. The Oxford site does not offer the “Sanctions,” “Malpractice,” and “Board Actions” searches; nor does it have the very important Patient Satisfaction data.
Once you’ve found a suitable psychiatrist who is on your insurance plan, call and schedule an appointment. See it as a job interview with you as the employer. Ask the doctor how much work she or he has done with bereavement and loss. Get a sense of them as a person. Don’t expect them to open up about their own experiences with death; their training tells them not to share personal details with patients. When you are leaving the office, ask the desk person to tell you the details of your plan’s coverage for psychiatric care.
The good news is that Medicare and private plans do cover “talk therapy” with psychiatrists and other professionals.