Healing Grief & Depression
May 21, 2018 @ 7:00 pm - 8:00 pm
Join Srinika at this special workshop where she will be discussing some of the underlying causes grief and depression. She’ll be sharing her holistic support and healing strategies with special guest Tina Kopko, MFT.
Narrator: Srinika Narayan is a nutritional analyst and acupuncturist with offices in San Francisco and Berkeley. She sees people with a wide range of health issues and specialized in chronic disease and stubborn problems. Tina Kopko is a holistically trained marriage and family therapist and advanced grief recovery specialist in Berkeley. She sees adult individuals and couples in her private practice, and runs eight week grief recovery method support groups throughout the year.
Srinika Narayan: So glad to have you here, Tina, and get your perspective as a therapist and a grief recovery specialist. We’ve both seen what unresolved grief can do to the body and how it can lead to physical symptoms, but we can see that medical doctors often times don’t recognize, leave alone, address, how grief and loss can lead to physical symptoms and how it affects treating physical symptoms. So I’d like to know, in your practice, what do you see and what are often overlooked symptoms of unresolved grief.
Tina Kopko: Thank you so much. I’m so glad to be here to talk to you and your audience about unresolved grief and how it shows up in the body. You’re right. Doctors are often not even assessing for grief and loss so they’re missing this important life event in terms of how it affects the body and ones physical health, and so they may ask questions that lead them to a diagnosis such as depression, anxiety, sometimes even more severe diagnosis based on the length of time that the symptoms have been present. Some of those symptoms can include reduced concentration, focus, memory, reduced appetite, weak immune systems, so someone who’s getting sick a lot more than they’re used to, a change in sleep or eating patterns, isolating from friends or colleagues, family, and spending a lot of time alone, emotional behavioral kind of outcomes like irritability, shorter temper, impatience and also a reduced tolerance for life’s challenges, so their last straw is easier to reach that just sends them over the edge of not being able to tolerate life’s challenges, and then a loss of interest in regular hobbies and interests that they were previously interested in. If you look up the symptoms of depression, that’s a very similar list.
Tina Kopko: Why would this look like grief? Because it’s dependent on what’s going on in someones life and if the doctor is not asking the person whether they’ve had recent loss or that they’re grieving something, then they might put you on a medication, and that medication is going to affect your organs, as well, and it may not get to the root cause. So in the grief recovery work that I do, I ask people whether they have had any recent loss and how it is affecting their life and where they might have unresolved material.
Tina Kopko: So one example of how grief and loss can show up in the physical body as physical symptoms is … back when my mom was dying of lung cancer, I was traveling a lot, back and forth across the country to visit and spend time with her and I was under a lot of stress. I was interning and working full time and studying for my exams, and I started exercising a lot. I was putting a lot of pressure on my physical body. I thought it was a healthy way to deal with my grief and loss.
Tina Kopko: What ended up happening was, I had some heart symptoms and chest pain that was starting to feel like what people would describe as a heart attack and I got really scared and concerned and I went to the ER multiple times for this, and they couldn’t really figure out what was wrong with me. They did EKGs. They didn’t really find anything particularly wrong with my heart. They did some allergy testing, but that didn’t really reveal anything. After a few years of this going on and off again, and it’s starting to get more intense for me and more frequent, I got really concerned and I had some tests done and they discovered that there was a hiatal hernia which is a loosening of some of the muscles. What I noticed was as the anxiety around what was going wrong with my body increased, the symptoms were increasing and that was particularly interesting to me, because while the doctors couldn’t see anything wrong, I could certainly feel that there was something wrong, and when I started doing some more intense grief work and paying attention to how the body is holding it, it just subsided on its own.
Srinika Narayan: Wow.
Tina Kopko: Yeah. Which is really fascinating and a relief, but it really showed me that the emotional work is just as important as going to see your doctor and maybe getting medication or a test done. That was really important.
Srinika Narayan: Great. Very interesting.
Tina Kopko: So I’d really like to know, in terms of your practice, what could be the physical manifestations that you see come up on with your clients who are in grief or loss?
Srinika Narayan: Well, in Chinese medicine, the emotion of grief is very much related to affecting the lungs and, in fact, I do see that quite a bit. We talked about kind of low immune system. I definitely see that, especially with respiratory issues or when people start developing these chronic coughs or asthma, and also upper back pain, around the lung area basically, or behind the lungs. The second big organ it seems to affect is the liver. So really any strong emotion tends to affect the liver. Strong emotions create certain hormones and those hormones have to be filtered out through the liver, so if there’s too much of this hormone, the liver gets very congested. A congested liver can lead to a whole myriad of health issues, such as sleep issues, digestive problems, hormonal imbalances. Basically it can manifest in many, many ways.
Srinika Narayan: The difference between unresolved grief affecting the body versus grief that comes and goes, basically can see that when one persons able to shrug off some of these symptoms. They come and they go and they don’t last for a long time, where as, for someone else, these emotions really get stuck in the organs and they really stay there, and the symptoms just keep going and going.
Tina Kopko: I’m really glad that you mentioned that because there really is a difference between grief and unresolved grief and I make sure that people understand, as you go through the program, The Grief Recovery Method, what the difference is. What unresolved grief is, is usually when someone is talking about something that they wish they’d said or done differently, something they wish they could go back and handle a different way, or make a communication that they now don’t have a chance to make, and so I get stuck, absolutely get stuck in the body, in the emotional body, and sometimes even in their throat. Sometimes people will have throat pain or issues.
Srinika Narayan: I’ve seen that. Yeah.
Tina Kopko: Or have trouble talking, especially if they have to talk about the person, you can notice their throat will get tight and it will be hard to actually say the words. I also know that there’s unresolved grief when someone is either idolizing or demonizing someone that’s gone from their life, whether they’re dead or just it’s a break up or end of a relationship, they’ll tend to say all negative or all positive things about that person, and most relationships have an equal amount, or a balance, of both positive and negative experiences, so I know that there’s unresolved material for someone, unresolved grief, if they’re talking all positive or all negative about someone. That’s one of the indicators that I look for.
Srinika Narayan: Oh. Interesting. Okay. That really answers that, differentiates it.
Tina Kopko: Mm-hmm (affirmative)
Srinika Narayan: What is the difference between regular grief counseling and then The Grief Recovery Method?
Tina Kopko: Good. I’m glad you asked. Grief counseling, which is very prevalent in a lot of hospitals, and people associate it with death, or professionals associate it with that kind of milestone in someone’s life, provide free groups or low cost groups to the public and, often, they’re sorted by the type of loss that you have experienced, so death of a parent, or a pet loss, or a move, say. The main focus of those groups is to really share stories, to be in community, to know that you’re not alone, to be able to talk about the person that’s gone from your life and get support, and sometimes even they involve ritual, saying goodbye, sharing memories, having photo collages or albums shared with the group and finding a way to say goodbye to that person.
Tina Kopko: The Grief Recovery Method, on the other hand, is a time limited step-by-step action based program that takes people through the steps that we’ve identified people need to understand and learn in order to figure out where their unresolved grief lies, what the undelivered emotion communications are with those losses, and to then give them a way to actually make those communications and be heard by someone who’s not judging, analyzing, criticizing or trying to fix what they’re feeling, but literally just listening from an openhearted, non-judgemental stance, so that they can be heard, and that they can then say goodbye to whatever has been causing them pain.
Tina Kopko: We go through a process of unlearning what they’ve been taught in society or in family about grief and loss and how to recover, and then we look at the history of loss in their life. We take one relationship that they’ve lost or they’ve experienced loss in and we work with that relationship very deeply and then we end up having a way to make the communications that need to be made, like the left over, “I wish this could have been different. I wish I would have had the chance to say or do this differently.” Through that process, they actually become complete with that person, that loss in their life, and they can actually use the same process on their own with other loses in their life, other relationships and including people who are still living who may still be in their life, in fact, but something has changed about that relationship. So it’s a really powerful method aimed at completion.
Srinika Narayan: Oh. Wonderful.
Tina Kopko: Yeah. That is a main difference between that and just regular grief counseling.
Srinika Narayan: Okay.
Tina Kopko: Srinika, I’m interested in how the acupuncture and nutrition work that you offer people helps them release their emotions on a somatic level.
Srinika Narayan: Yeah. Great question. Acupuncture and nutrition can basically detox the organs of these emotions, the unresolved emotions, that have kind of been fermenting inside, so acupuncture can just release the channels and basically you have energy that is flowing easier, so those organs can kind of release a lot of the negative energy that’s been stored up. Then we have nutrition which, on a very physical level, can also detox these organs. For the liver, for instances, if its holding on to unresolved grief and the hormones from these emotions, I would suggest do a lot of green vegetables and juices. Do liver clearing herbs such as dandelion, milk thistle. Doing these detoxing things on a very physical level can help you just feel better emotionally. For the lungs, to kind of clear up the lungs, pungent kind of herbs and spices, such as onion or radishes, fenugreek seed, and pepper. It clears out the lungs and the lungs are a reservoir of unresolved grief, so those can really help.
Srinika Narayan: Secondly, acupuncture and nutrition can strengthen the body. What we want is the acupuncture brings more blood flow, more energy to these organs to support them because they have been probably damaged a little bit by holding on to these emotions that have kind of stuck around for a while. Acupuncture brings energy into the organs to heal them and then nutritionally, we see what are the organs that are off, and start adding foods in that will help the organs. For instance, the liver loves zinc. It loves B vitamins, so we add foods that are rich in those minerals and vitamins, and the lungs like a lot of vitamin E, vitamin C, betacarotene, so carrots, for instance, kiwi, citrus fruit, red pepper. All of that can start help rebuilding the lungs.
Srinika Narayan: By simultaneously detoxing and strengthening these organs, a person can feel much better physically and emotionally.
Tina Kopko: Great. That’s so fascinating.
Srinika Narayan: Yeah. Yeah. It works quite well. It can work on both levels. Tell me, Tina, so you run both groups and do individual counseling…
Tina Kopko: That’s right.
Srinika Narayan: So what’s the benefit to the group process versus just one on one?
Tina Kopko: Yeah. Great. Thanks. In the group process, which is a right fit some, but not others, number one, you’re not alone, and you really see that with the whole group sharing a couple of their losses early on, as we develop a sense of trust and safety. We also make three commitments at the beginning of every session together. We commit to total emotional honesty, absolute confidentiality, and uniqueness and individuality. We build this sense of safety and community and it helps normalize what people are going through, so they hear other peoples stories and it makes them feel like, “Oh. It’s not just me,” or “Oh, wow. That person is really having some intense symptoms, as well. I’m glad to know that there’s nothing really wrong with me, that this is a normal part of the grieving process.”
Tina Kopko: Also, sometimes, the community remains after the group ends, and people chose to stay in touch with each other and support each other in their ongoing grief work. Lastly, it’s more affordable than coming in for eight or more sessions on a one-on-one basis. There is a package fee that I have, and I do offer discounts if you pay in advance, so it is more accessible on a financial level.
Tina Kopko: The pros of coming in to see me one-on-one are that we can adjust the pacing a little bit more, so if there’s a lot of other things going on in your life that you also want to have the freedom to talk about in therapy with me, we can interspace between grief recovery method one week and then a regular therapy session the next week, and kind of take turns so that both areas are getting addressed. For some people, they feel either they’re not comfortable in a group setting, that other people make them nervous, or they just aren’t sure that they want to share the information that they’re struggling with at a group level, and so when you’re meeting with me one-on-one … The place I have the groups is not ADA, but my office is. Though if there’s someone that needs accessibility level in entrance and that kind of thing, no steps, then my office is a better place for us to meet than in the group room.
Srinika Narayan: Wow. Wonderful. Well great. Tina, if people want to contact you and learn more, how do they do that?
Tina Kopko: Thanks for asking. So I have a website and all of this information is going to be in the comments section so take a look below and check out for all these [addresses 00:16:58], but my website is authenticitina.com. I also have a Facebook page, Tina Kopko Grief Support, and it’s a lot of helpful information on how to process grief and things that we hear about grief, the six myths. I talk about that a lot, and also that’s where I announce all of my events, so I post Facebook events to let people know when the next group is starting, and the next group currently is to start on Monday June 4th, so if you’re interested in applying for that program, please get in touch with me there. I’m also on Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter and LinkedIn, so you can just search for me by name, Tina Kopko.
Srinika Narayan: Cool. Wonderful. Thank you so much for joining me. This has just been an enlightening discussion.
Tina Kopko: Thank you.
Srinika Narayan: I feel like I know so much more about grief and how to deal with it initially.
Tina Kopko: Thank you for having me and it’s also great to know how you are able to treat those things so we can send clients each others way and get them kind of wrap around services in terms of the process they’re going through. They’ll let go of what they’ve lost.
Srinika Narayan: Deal with things on different levels. Holistically.
Tina Kopko: Yeah. Exactly. Thank you so much Srinika.
Srinika Narayan: Yes. Thank you. Thank you for tuning in.