Grief, Loss and Professional Boundaries

I just found out that my story that was published in the Spring issue of the journal Zeek, which focused on Spirituality and Healing, is the recipient of the 2010 Association for Women in Psychology’s Jewish Women’s Scholarship Award. Submitting this article for publication was a personal and professional leap of faith for me, one that cut right across the clinical proscenium and allowed my personal story to become public.

This article was part of a trilogy called “Gleanings” from three Jewish professionals who provide spiritual care to others. For those of us who are professional caregivers or community leaders, this level of visibility is often rife with anxiety, and viewed with disdain by colleagues. Yet at some point every one of us will be forced to grapple with our own grief and vulnerability when a loved one dies. My dear friend and colleague Cathy Hauer, MFT, wrote eloquently about this in her 1997 article, “Parallel Process: Client and Therapist Explore Motherloss.”

Having been a social worker for nearly twenty-five years, I feel strongly about the importance of maintaining appropriate and respectful clinical boundaries, while at the same time honoring the authentic intersubjectivity that exists within the professional relationship. I have had so many conversations with colleagues who wrestle with these ethical issues so intensely that many of them (us) have questioned whether or not they can continue to practice as therapists. Moreover, in the era of social media and the Internet, boundaries between client and professional have entered into an entirely new ethical territory of private and public identities. These ethical challenges are also quite relevant for rabbis and other clergy, teachers, physicians and other professional caregivers.

I have found great insight and support from colleagues who work in rural areas and small towns, and are quite seasoned at living in community with their clients as real human beings who grocery-shop, garden and grieve. 

The unique perspective on loss and bereavement as experienced by LGBT people, as well as the often complicated relationship to traditional religious frameworks for mourning, is a story that must be told. Too often relationships with partners, ex-lovers, extended family and friends are relegated to secondary status, or rendered completely invisible, when compared with “real” losses, such as legal spouses or primary family members. Grief is a universal human experience, transcending gender, sexuality, race, religion and culture. While these aspects of identity inform the experience of loss, grief cannot be ranked, compared, qualified or quantified. 

My training as a spiritual director and Circle of Trust® facilitator have taught me new paradigms and tools for navigating these rich and challenging emotional and spiritual terrains, while also affirming the ethics and principles that undergird my work.

I am so honored and humbled to receive this award.  I hope that my story will help others find their way on the journey of grief.

May we be blessed with the gift of boundaries, and mamash, may we allow the truth of our lives to be seen, heard and sanctified. Amen.