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TRANSCRIPT — Keeping an Open Mind and Heart While Grieving with Therapist Sherry O’Brian



Therapist Sherry O’Brian states in her book, Peaks and Valleys, Integrative Approaches for Recovering from Loss, that grief is both an emotion and a process. We cover this in our conversation, and I personally feel that there cannot be enough open dialogue about grief and the losses that we experience in our life. Everyone will be touched by loss, and I hope this conversation helps you deal with yours.


Sherry O’Brian, thank you so much for joining me today on Record Scratch. I am so grateful for you. When I was referred to you, it was so fascinating because  I realized I already had your number. And I had no idea when I walked into your office that first day that you had written a book on grief.




Now, will you please explain what prompted you to write that and also thank you. It’s a treasure.


Well, thanks for having me, Kara. And I appreciate that. I wrote the book with my own journey. And there’s a little bit of a story in the book describing that.

But I had a nephew who died of cancer, my brother who committed suicide, and all my training and all of the bereavement groups that I’ve done, I kept trying to utilize the way that I was taught traditionally in the stages of grief and found that it wasn’t helping.

And I recognized that in order to really release the traumatic pieces of grief, we have to look at it at a cellular level because all of our emotions come from our body. And there wasn’t anything addressing that that I could find out there. So I started doing my own trainings. I started workshops, teaching other practitioners.

And after each workshop, somebody would come up to me and say, “Do you have a book that would have all of this information in there?” And I’d say, “No, I don’t, but there’s plenty of information on the handouts and please contact me if you have any questions,” etc.

And then I actually spoke to a woman who said, “Oh, you’re going to write a book about your journey.” And I’m thinking, “I don’t even know that I have time to write a book. I don’t know how to write a book.” as she planted the seed.

And interesting enough, all these pieces of the jigsaw puzzle of my life started coming together. And I still to this day don’t know how I wrote the book. But what I know was it was very healing for me. And the people that I worked with were talking about how much more they were able to release, especially the traumatic grief, but not only that, the various levels of grief. So when you lose a loved one to death, that is one of the most devastating types of grief there is. But you also lose the routines that you did with that loved one.

You lose so much more than people really understood as part of the grieving process and so many more layers of that grieving process and the trauma and all of those emotions that we just neatly file away because in this culture, we’re giving like three days off work and somehow we’re supposed to be over it by then, which is another thing, the word getting over it.

The stages imply that somehow you go through these stages and it’s complete. Somehow you’re supposed to be over it and people would always come to me and say, “When am I going to get to this acceptance place?” So anyway, one of the reasons why I wrote the book was my own journey with myself, my losses, and then all those that I had worked with all those years, and recognizing that there was something that was missing in working with and helping myself and others. And that’s how I created the book.


Well, I’m so grateful that you did. And let’s talk about those stages, but you’ve created a cycle.


Yes. And it’s just a continuous cycle.


So I know for me, I was really offended by the stages of grief and thought, I’ve got anger nailed down. I’m really good on acceptance. And the rest didn’t apply. And then I read that they were created for the dying, someone who is dying of a terminal illness, not for the bereaved. So I’m like, What the hell? This is bullshit. Then I read Claire Bidwell-Smith about anxiety being the sixth stage of grief. She nails it in that one. And then in yours, everything made sense with the cycle, not stages. So I think we should throw stages out of the conversation completely because it’s just not applicable.


It’s not the model that I created. I took the model from not only the whole stages of grief, but there were several other models out there. And the task of mourning was one of them, which those made a little bit more sense, especially for the bereaved. So I integrated the phases of grief.

And what I found was the reason why I thought they were so helpful is because it allows people to realize we’re going to go through these phases and grief is a process and in emotion. And as you go through shock, most people are going to be shocked by the death of a loved one, depending on the role and relationship with that loved one.

And then they’re going to go through this protest phase. And protest phase is about asking all the why questions. It is about anger, the stages of grief using anger.

That would be applicable in there. But usually it’s all about an answerable questions. Why them? Why now? What if? Those kinds of questions. And then this disorganization phase is when you recognize all those habits and routines that are no longer there that you may have had with your loved one.

And then the reorganization phase is when you start creating new habits, new routines and moving out of the what I will call that disorganization phase where you’re not sure what to do, how to do it, and you’re just kind of putting one foot in front of the other.

And that reorganization phase is when you’re really, you’re starting to put things together that can help you remember your loved one without remembering the pain of their loss because we have relationships with our loved ones that are far greater than that memory of the traumatic loss or whatever type of loss there is. And so you’re reorganizing your life, people will put together rituals and memory books and things to help them keep their loved one alive in some way. And then recovery is really about as long as you’re moving through all those phases, you are in that recovery process.

Recovery is not necessarily an outcome. It’s the process of moving through all those phases. And that’s why I put it together that way. Some people still find the stages useful. But if you look at it as phases instead of stages, it gives you permission to recognize grief is not something to get over. And I always wondered, well, who would want to get over the loss of a loved one. If you love someone, why would you want to get over that?

You want to get over the suffering. You want to leave the suffering behind and re-remember them in all the times and ways that you choose. You bring together memory books, rituals. There’s all kinds of ways of doing that.

But the phases of grief allow that to happen, that movement to continue to go through the various phases at your own rate, there is no right way and right timing with grief either. There’s an implication that if you’re not over something by a certain time that you’re not grieving properly, which I never did understand.


Well, I do feel like some people can be stuck in a space and depression. I’ve spoken with a lot of other parents who’ve lost a child. And I don’t feel like I have a choice. Several people I’ve talked to, you don’t have a choice, you have to move forward. Because the other choice is really dark and sad. But some people do choose that. And it’s not easy to move forward, but also if someone is stuck, you know, that’s a very difficult place.


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Let’s address some of the varying areas of grief because there’s sudden loss versus anticipatory grief.


Anticipatory grief is it was something that really upset me. My nephew was dying of cancer and people were talking about anticipatory grief and I understood what that meant that we were looking at that when he died. But we were grieving. We weren’t anticipating grieving. We were grieving when that so-called anticipatory label was placed on there. Yes, you know, someone’s going to die, whether it’s they’re in hospice or whatever that situation is, you know, people who have loved ones who have Alzheimer’s and dementia and they are no longer, they’re grieving that person that they knew is no longer there, but the person themselves, they haven’t died so that the whole anticipatory wondering how things are going to go, how much worse are they going to be, that in some ways is anticipatory, but you’re grieving the loss of that person that was in the current moment. So, anticipatory really is kind of a misnomer in that the person is actually grieving currently, even though they are anticipating these changes in the future.

Now, complicated grief is a way of describing multiple layers of grief. So you may have had several losses and you may have had multiple layers connected to those losses. So I remember having a woman whose husband died, she had to sell the house because she couldn’t afford the house and she had to give away a bunch of things. So she had lost her home, she had to move, so she lost the neighbors that she was familiar with. She lost her husband.

There were so many different levels of loss there, but traditionally that would be looked at as complicated grief because she wasn’t moving forward. She was stuck. The reason why she was stuck in those phases was because there was a lot of trauma.

If you’re one watching a loved one die and you can’t do anything about it, one of the definitions of trauma is that you or a loved one is in harm’s way or death’s way and you feel helpless and hopeless to do anything about it. Well, when you are watching a loved one die of cancer, most caregivers often will respond that that’s exactly how they felt. So there’s a lot of trauma involved.

Trauma has to be worked with when you’re helping people with that kind of grief.

Trauma is held at a body. It’s called a somatic level. It’s at a physical level. And if we don’t do some sort of techniques like the active point stimulation techniques or other techniques that I’ve used in the book, that trauma, That’s what hinders a person and that’s where the person can get stuck. And the somatic holding on of those losses of that trauma and that’s at the cellular level.


And in the intro to your book, you say, “Please enjoy these tools of transformation with an open mind and heart.” I love that. And you’re addressing these things because I learned the hard way that therapy, talk therapy, I think it’s kind of worthless if it doesn’t include an energetic component to help you release it. Like what’s the point of talking about something to relive trauma again and again without a way of feeling lighter and feeling better? 


It’s one thing to connect with someone else and to feel seen and heard. So there is value in that, but you’re not getting over it though. Your body is still holding onto it. 


So when, how long have you been a therapist?


25 years.


And then when did you incorporate and get certified or trained to start incorporating the energy work into your therapy practice? I’ve been integrating a variety of different techniques in my therapies because the very thing that you said. The talk therapy, for some people talk therapy helps them let go of some things, depending on the situation and the extent of whatever has happened. So talking about something, this is a wonderful tool, but when I went back to grad school, I wasn’t really satisfied with the training I was getting there. So I did gestalt therapy and they were looking at the whole person and that propelled me into looking at in something called Psyche, which was looking at how our beliefs impact our ability to move forward or keep us stuck.

And then that led me into working with Donna Eden, and she wrote a book called Energy Medicine Years ago, and I did some training with her in working with the subtle energy bodies.

And then I went into hypnotherapy. And in that training, that really opened up how devastating some of these memories and the traumas can be to people. It’s as if it’s happening right then and there when they go back to that traumatic place. And sometimes they would, they go into shock. And I’m like, there’s got to be some way of keeping that person from going into shock.

So I started doing more research and I found energy psychology, acupuncture, and energy psychology. I want to make sure I’m clear with that. Is a broad umbrella of several techniques. Emotional freedom technique is probably one of the most famous and researched, but there are other techniques as well.

And when I got into that and I coupled it with all the other things that I just described, I was just amazed at how, and I hate to use this word, but how much quicker someone could be able to literally titrate their emotions from shock into understanding, forgiving, letting go, whatever was applicable, but letting go of that trauma because it literally worked on that chemical cascade that occurs in our brain that keeps us feeling like it’s happening in the present versus it happening 10 years ago or however long.

So it was just one of those “aha” moments for me. I went into doing some training with them and it’s called comprehensive energy psychology and it literally brings in all some of those aspects that I described in a comprehensive form where every client is unique.

So when you work with each client, you don’t go by a specific script, so to speak, you go by what that client is telling you they need, what the subconscious needs, what the psyche needs, what the emotional, mental, spiritual needs are of each person. It’s an individual type of therapy.


I’m amazed at how well it works. Can you explain why?




How is it effective?


I’m going to summarize years of research, I’m going to try to. But basically, when a negative event happens, our amygdala in the brain is triggered, and it sends information to the hypothalamus and the hippocampus of the brain.

And that is like the storage, it’s kind of like your hard drive, if you will. And that information is stored. So anytime, again, going on a computer model, anytime somebody hits the right key, it triggers the person to feel like they’re in the trauma or the event or whatever, you know, the situation is, it feels like it’s happening in the present moment.

The tapping works on the meridians. And some of the research has shown a couple of different things. One, that the tapping disrupts that chemical cascade that occurs in the brain so that you can in real time recognize, I’m safe now. This isn’t happening now.

This happened in the past. And it also allows you to reprogram. It’s called memory reconciliation. So you take the memory and then you reprogram it with what it is you want.

So you recognize the situation and I’ll just as an example, even though I’m afraid and that’s a typical statement, even though I throw in a part of me, even though a part of me is afraid, I deeply and completely accept this part of me. So you’re acknowledging that fear.

And the reason why affirmations don’t work is there’s usually some incongruence or it’s called psychological reversal that interferes with the affirmation that you want.

There’s no room for it, so you have to be able to release that reversal or the incongruence that’s there in order to replace it with what it is you want.

And when it comes to fear or anger or any of those multitude of emotions in grief, People often are afraid to release their emotions because they’re afraid they’ll forget their loved one or they’re afraid something bad’s going to happen, whatever that is.

But a lot of times it’s I’m afraid I’m going to forget my loved one that I’m not a good mother, father, spouse, partner. If I move forward apart from the grief and continue to bring their memory with me, that doesn’t seem like a reality. So the chemical cascade and slowing that down and helping the brain use that memory reconciliation, place it in a place that feels workable, manageable.

Everybody’s going to be a little different. That is one area of how they believe the energy psychology, the tapping on the active points work. Also, there’s some studies about the actual meridians of the body now that they can prove they exist. And the way that the meridians are, it would be kind of like the internet of our system.

I’m an integrative practitioner. There are some people that need help with pharmaceutical assistance, whatever that might be, natural substances, etc. I’m not opposed to that at all.

But our ancestors, they had wonderful tools of healing in the environment that they were in, letting our ancestral’s knowledge come through is so important because some of these tools like active puncture and guided imagery and meditation and things like that have been around for centuries. And now we’re just able to kind of integrate them in because somebody has studied it and said it works. People that are not visual oftentimes believe they can’t do guided imagery or they can’t meditate because they’re not visual.

And I remember when I took my training from Jean Okteburg, she was very famous researcher that worked with cancer patients and she was just one of those types of teachers that helped you understand not all of us are going to be able to use all of our senses all at once. Some people can, but as you like any other exercise, as you do it, the more and more you do it, then all of a sudden maybe you can see visual images and feel the tactile, kinesthetic kind of feeling and maybe even hear sounds, the auditory piece comes in.

That is some ancient wisdom in there.

It’s a practice just because you can’t do it the first time, close your eyes and try to use guided imagery doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with or guided imagery doesn’t work.

As this applies to grief and wanting to visualize yourself feeling lighter, feeling happier without and just bringing the love forward without letting go of the key components of your relationship with with that person that’s close to you.


How is it that a multi-sensory approach is so important with that visualization practice?


I think it’s one of the ways that we relocate, if you will, or re-remember our loved one.

And what I mean by that is, if we can release any of the disruptive emotions, they were more likely to be able to remember that loved one instead of the incident that happened that killed the loved one or that loved one died from or whatever the specific loss is. Because this model I use different types of losses. So losses of a relationship, losses of jobs, et cetera, losses of identity. If you lose your child and it’s your only child, you still feel like a mother or father. So that identity thing is part of that, the multiple layers. So it’s real important to work on releasing what I call the burden that has been placed upon us of that grief. And the grief can interfere with us seeing or remembering what it is we had with that person. Again, depends on the relationship.

But most people, oftentimes depending on how the loved one died, they may have difficulty. And I know my sister did. Remembering the relationship prior to the suffering that my nephew went through, he was in hospice for 11 months. I know he stayed there for my sister. They really held each other up. But it was hard for her to remember my nephew Shane prior to his illness.

All she could remember was the suffering piece of it. And so when we can release the suffering, we can remember the loved one.

And that’s that physical. When I say suffering, it’s mental, emotional, spiritual suffering. And this was one of the mysterious moments. I was really upset with what I would call God, the divine, the universe, whatever you want to, you know, whatever your spiritual beliefs are. I was meditating and I was, if I can’t help my own loved ones, what the heck am I doing? Why am I, why was I brought here? Why am I doing this stuff? And probably a little bit more heated language. And I didn’t get struck by lighting.

What I got struck with was I literally had this meditation channel to me and it was really about going into all the various chakras of the body and releasing the grief, releasing all the emotions that were under the grief, the anger, the sadness, all of the emotions.

And when I went in, I was taken in a circular pattern. And if you think about the vortex, that the way that you go in and gather up things and release them, a vortex is a very powerful symbol. And that’s what I was given, a vortex more or less of going into the various chakras to release all the burden that I was feeling and all the other emotions.

And then after releasing, bringing in the light, bringing in the various healing modalities, bringing in their own healing energies, etc. And I was basically after I got out of that meditation, and I was just given the job, if you will, of helping others with the same meditation, just giving the message that others would benefit. I wasn’t the only one going through this, others would benefit from it too. And that was another thing that fell right into place.

The music came along, the person that produced it came along, things came into play, and the meditation was a result of that. And that helped go in and take out all of the various emotions and energies that were stuck. That was one way of doing it.


Your beautiful meditations are available on Apple Music.


I think it’s on Amazon too.


Through your experience and with the healing that you facilitate and with your experiences with being an author and therapist, what are you most proud of?


The fact that I’ve been able to overcome all of the challenges that I’ve been presented with and as a result help others with those various challenges and refusing to allow those challenges to define me but rather to be led and grow from those challenges and help others from that.

And I think if we can help others see that their challenges do not have to define them, they can overcome those and help others in some way.

And you see that around the world, people helping others. That’s probably what I’m most proud of. It’s one thing to read about how someone else has had this challenge and they overcame it. It’s another to say that I overcame those challenges. And as a result, brought those gifts and lessons to others to help them overcome as well.


That is a great answer. Thank you so much.


You’re welcome. Thank you so much for joining me on Record Scratch.


I really appreciate you and I’m so grateful you’re in my life.


You’re welcome, Kara. You’ve got some wonderful things to teach others.



Whenever I speak with Sherry, just like in this interview, I feel better somehow. I feel lighter and I believe that’s what energy work does. It helps us heal and lift some of the heaviness that we carry around. There’s a phrase, “Lighten up.” I think that could be spun into a positive instead of being a negative observation or command for someone.

So maybe we should all lighten up. Towards the end of our interview, I realized I needed to ask Sherry one more question.

And here it is.


In sessions with you, you’ve talked about common threads of feelings of different emotions. Can you explain how those collectively build up?


What we look at is, and what traditional psychotherapy does not look at, talk therapy, et cetera, is we look at the common thread of emotion or belief, for that matter. So the statement is all the times and ways and then you fill in the blank.

So all the times and ways that I have felt abandoned, we use that word because that actually comes up a lot when people have lost a loved one, they feel abandoned.

Now, it’s not that that person chose to leave, but there’s a sense of abandonment there.

So what happens is let’s say, okay, we’re moving forward and we’re going to repress that emotion and we’re going to continue to live our life and something else comes along and let’s say you get into a relationship and the relationship doesn’t work out and all of a sudden you feel abandoned again and it can feel out of proportion, it can feel overwhelming for some people but again they might repress it down and then life moves on and they are going through some sort of, we’ll just say business-oriented training and they were supposed to have a co-worker or colleague help them and the colleague decided not to show up and they felt abandoned.

And that could be the trigger that brought up all the times of ways that abandonment showed up all the way back to the original abandonment. It comes all the way up to be released.

So it’s interesting, none of those events have anything to do with each other. They’re not common in any way other than the experience of abandonment. That’s the common thread. And this goes with all of the other forms of, you know what, whether we call it emotions or beliefs. If you believe there’s something wrong with you and you’ve been told that by parents or teachers, etc., and you move forward in your life and something happens and you’re given that message again, that is an accumulation of all the times and ways and it comes up to be released.

And if we don’t have the tools, the proper tools to release them, it comes up and it can become overwhelming because it’s not just one hardly ever, just one thing. That’s why it feels so overwhelming.


So there’s a way to then alleviate that or there could be layers of that as it pushes itself up to the forefront, but then it can be triggered by something. And then if you have that 

build up, you can be very reactive.




And that’s the trigger, but then it’s possible to release that.


Yes, and that’s what we work on if we’re going to use and we fine-tune to see which is the best method, the prioritizing of the best technique because I integrate so many, and it may be a couple of them, but usually it’s some form of using accupoint stimulation or subtle energy work where you’re working with the chakras, the biofield or the aura, and you’re working within the energy to address that very energetically charged issue.

And as you release it from the body and reprogram it, so to speak, you always want to bring something in. That’s another thing that a lot of times some therapies, it’s all about getting rid of and letting go of things.

But if you don’t put something back in and I always encourage people to seek colors or come up with a word or a feeling sensation that they want to bring in. If you don’t fill that void, then more than likely that void is going to find another way of filling itself up.

So it’s important to do that. So you release it from a physical standpoint.


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