Julia Samuel MBE is a highly regarded psychotherapist and author in the UK whose work and insights into grief and trauma are prolific and profound. Her many accomplishments and accolades include being a Founder Patron of the leading national charity Child Bereavement UK, being appointed a Member of the British Empire for her services to bereaved parents of babies, becoming a vice president of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, writing three wise, transformative books about grief, and hosting a podcast called Therapy Works. In 2021, Julia launched her truly remarkable Grief Works app, which has earned over 1000 five-star reviews. It is a fantastic mobile application for IOS and Android that helps the bereaved navigate their grief, transforming the often-overwhelming grief journey into a reflective, supportive, and positive experience step by step, and literally at a person’s fingertips. The Grief Works app makes an incredible, meaningful gift of healing from those who wish to support a loved one or a friend who is experiencing the difficult and painful journey of grief, and it is also a special gift a grieving person can give him or herself. Tune in to this powerful, insights-filled episode with Julia Samuel today!
IN THIS EPISODE, YOU’LL HEAR ABOUT THINGS LIKE:
- What moved Julia to work with grieving individuals as her lifelong mission and purpose.
- The wonderful work Child Bereavement UK does to support grieving families and train professionals.
- What inspired Julia to create the Grief Works app, her nurturing, healing resource for anyone trying to cope with the death of a loved one.
- Why loss of identity is a common side effect of grief.
- The comprehensive course in the Grief Works app that helps a person work through grief for a mere 15 minutes a day.
- How Julia’s Eight Pillars of Strength help those who are grieving become more able to cope with life.
SOME QUESTIONS IRENE ASKS JULIA:
- What are the Stages of Grief and why is grief a naturally adaptive process?
- In what ways can grief affect the body, and why do grieving people often feel lost, alone, and fearful?
- How does the Grief Works app provide compassionate guidance and support for managing emotions?
- In what ways does the Grief Works app present ideal coping mechanisms, and holistically guide transition into a new life?
Watch the episode here
Listen to the podcast here
Julia Samuel MBE: Did you know that 15% of mental health disorders can come from unresolved grief?
In this episode, I’m feeling so very grateful and honored to have the pleasure of interviewing Julia Samuel MBE, who is a highly regarded psychotherapist and author in the UK specializing in grief. Julia’s work and insights into grief and trauma are prolific and profound. She began working as a bereavement counselor in the Pediatric Department of St. Mary’s Hospital, which is a major acute care hospital in London, where she pioneered the role of maternity and pediatric psychotherapy.
In 1994, she helped launch and establish Child Bereavement UK for which she is a Founder Patron. In 2016, Julia was appointed a member of the British Empire for her services to bereaved parents of babies. She is the Vice President of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. She is an Honorary Doctor of Middlesex University. She has also written three wise transformative books. Her first two books are titled, Grief Works: Stories of Life, Death, and Surviving and This Too Shall Pass: Stories of Change, Crisis, and Hopeful Beginnings. Her newest book is titled, Every Family Has a Story: How We Inherit Love and Loss.
Julia works in private practice. She also hosts a podcast called Therapy Works. In 2021, Julia launched her remarkable Grief Works app, a local application for iOS and Android that helps the bereaved navigate their grief, transforming the old and overwhelming grief journey into a reflective, supportive, and positive experience step by step.
I’m eager to talk with Julia about what inspired her to work with individuals grieving the loss of the person they love, how grieving is a naturally adaptive process, the ways grief can affect the body, why the grieving person often feels lost, alone, and fearful and how her remarkable Grief Works app so beautifully provides practical strategies, comforting advice, and a community of support at a person’s fingertips. This is surely going to be an incredibly informative, comforting, and enlightening interview with the potential to heal and transform many lives. Julia, my warm welcome to the show.
I’ve never had such a fulsome introduction to a show before, Irene. Thank you so much. I’m delighted to meet you and congratulate you on all the work that you’re doing in this field.
Thank you so much. Everyone’s going to learn about your Grief Works app. It’s wonderful. Your Grief Work apps and what we do for this show are like a natural marriage. It can help so many people. I’m already excited about the potential for it with so many people. Let’s begin by helping everyone to get to know a little bit more about you. What has motivated you to work with individuals who are grieving the loss of a person they love? You started in the publishing business and then made a turn.
I worked with publishers. With most of us, we come to this consciously or in my case, unconsciously from our stories. I was brought up in a family where both of my parents had very significant losses by the time they were in their mid-twenties. My mom, her mother, her father, her sister and her brother had died very tragically. She was an orphan. My dad, his father and his brother both died very tragically.
I was brought up in a household where they never talked about death. We talked about everything that didn’t matter and nothing that mattered. That unconsciously influenced me. I’m a twin. I have a twin brother who lives in Brooklyn, America with his kids. He has been there for many years. That need for connection and wanting to be close and be on the inside track of someone, not the outside of what they’re sharing but more what they’re feeling and experiencing has widened me from birth.
You turned to helping others and it also helped you.
It helped me.
Let’s talk about your first counseling job, which was as a volunteer for Westminster Bereavement Service. I love how you talk about this on your site. You’re so authentic, which I appreciate. You felt daunted, inadequate, and scared in the face of so much intense anguish and grief. What was it about that experience that moved you to work with grieving individuals as your lifelong mission and purpose?
I got to it and chose bereavement because of my experiences. What I found was, as I walked up the stairs of this enormous block of flats, the first ever person I saw, her daughter had been killed in a lorry accident on Christmas Eve. I walked into this room and there was the electric heater. She had the radio and television on. She hadn’t been outside for weeks. Despite all of that, there’s a level of human connection. Eventually, she turned off the heaters, television, and radio. I could help her go into her internal world and deal with the devastating loss of her daughter. I knew as bad and uncertain as I was that this is what I wanted to do forever.
It’s such a gift that you give to others. It’s also a gift to yourself.
How lucky I was at 29 to find what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
There are people who never find that out all through their lives so how fortunate. You worked at the Westminster Pastoral Foundation. You were a very assertive young woman. You persuaded the Board of Obstetric Consultants at St Mary’s Hospital in London to take you on as the first counselor supporting families of babies and children who had died. What were some of the important life-changing lessons that you learned from those experiences?
What happens to you at the time of the death, how the news is broken to you, and the memories that you create leading up to the death and after the death are incredibly significant in your capacity to navigate your loss. It’s done insensitively like you don’t have time to see the baby. Often, these are stillbirths so they’d never had a live baby.
Back in the day, the practice was what you don’t see doesn’t hurt you. Babies tended to be taken away. People didn’t have memories. They didn’t necessarily have proper funerals. Not at St Mary’s but in plenty of hospitals around the UK and I’m sure the world. The obstetricians would send a mother off, tell her to go, and have another baby. I recognized very early on that it’s the whole circumstances of it.
Grieving the future, you had every right to it and you expected it. I also learned that people had this incredible capacity to bear the unbearable when children died of terrible illnesses. We had a lot of meningitis early on, car crashes, and drownings. They’re very sudden and unexpected tragic deaths. In the right environment with the right support, people have an incredible capacity to survive and bear to live again. You never get over it. You never forget it. It’s always painful but you do find a way with the right support.
That’s the key to living and loving again. I witness that over and over. I was at St Mary’s for many years. I’m on the Ethics Committee to Imperial, which is part of St Mary’s. It’s like the mother and father of my professional self. I see the building and I feel enormous affection. I went back to work there to support teams during COVID. It’s a huge part of me being part of that institution.
Thank goodness for what you do. You’ve helped so many people with your insights and what you’ve learned. You’re passing it forward. In 1994, you helped launch and establish Child Bereavement UK, for which you are a Founder Patron. Would you like to tell us about that charity and how it supports families and professionals?
Initially, it was recognizing that maternity units and the staff needed support and training. High families that responded made a big difference in their capacity to manage and then it grew. It supports families when a child dies and it supports children when they’re bereaved. Children’s grief is an aspect of grief that back then was unrecognized. People will always tell, “Children bounce back. They’re amazing.”
Professionals needed the support. We did a lot of training for professional doctors, teachers, or anyone who came into contact with the bereaved family. We did lots of training around how to break that news and how to support themselves so that they could do it again and again. If you don’t have that, you tend to shut down. You’re not sensitive. You can’t attune and listen to the family because you become a bit more robotic. That’s the only coping mechanism that you have. I stopped after 25 years. It’s a nationwide charity that is seen as the charity that supports families when a child dies and when a child is bereaved.
When you say it’s nationwide, there are branches all through the UK.
It reaches all through the UK. We have some hubs but a lot is virtual. COVID changed a lot.
I want to tell everyone about your Grief Works app because it is incredible. It has impressively earned over 1,000 five-star reviews. What inspires you to create this? I love your Grief Works app. It is so needed. It is nurturing and healing. It helps with anyone trying to cope with the death of a loved one. What inspired you to create this with all the things that you do? I’ll create a Grief Works app.
I was approached by the company that created it. What we both saw in my book Grief Works is people do get a lot of insight and understanding of themselves through reading a book. The thing about an app is that it’s much more actionable and active. When you’re grieving, you can take stuff in and then your brain can go offline into the fog.
I knew from all the decades of work that I’d done that there isn’t anything like enough support for people. Even if they can afford it, there isn’t support. For those that can’t afford it, there isn’t. Even voluntary organizations are overwhelmed. There are waiting lists and globally, there aren’t. For all the people that are suffering, they can’t access support. To me, it is so personal. It feels like they’ve got me in their pocket 24/7.
If they do something difficult, they can go to the tools and do a breathing exercise. They can progress through their process of grieving through the 28-day course. They build a relationship with this new version of themselves through the architecture of the app. I like the structure. It’s very containing and holding. We have this community so you can meet other people. Grief is so isolating and chilly. You’ve been thrown into this alien world and then you meet people who are your companions in that alien world. That changes how you manage.
It’s a beautiful concept, Julia. I want to talk to you about some of the specifics of the Grief Works app because I want to share it with everyone. It’s brilliant, to be honest.
You’re welcome. Let’s talk about grief because this is your expertise. Let’s explain it to people because this will lead up to what you did in the app for everyone. Would you like to describe the stages? You do not describe the traditional Kübler-Ross stages of grief. Would you like to describe the stages of grief as you understand them and explain why you say that grief is a naturally adaptive process?
The task of mourning is to face the reality of the loss. That is the toughest task, this loss that we didn’t want and we didn’t choose. Even if we knew it was coming and even if it’s death after a long time, in some ways, we’re never prepared for that moment when the person has died. Our brain is a learning machine. Our brain does naturally adapt if we give it the information.
My understanding is the things that we do that block the pain is the thing that over time does us harm. We can’t feel it all at once. We need to gently let our brain know in incremental steps that this is the reality, that this person that we love has died. The best model in a way is your process, the movement between loss orientation where you take time and you rely on yourself to focus on the grief and the memory and feel the pain of it. Be restorative and do something that supports and distracts you. Be with a friend.
It’s the movement between the two, the oscillation between loss orientation and restoration orientation where then your brain does adapt. That is the Kübler-Ross that you can be numb or furious. Often, you feel all of these conflicting feelings at the same time. While you rely on yourself to do it and have the support to do it, you do accommodate the loss. You build your life around it. You don’t get over it.
I love the way the app takes people through these processes step by step for what you’re talking about. I’d like everyone to understand because grief is such a personal experience but it can affect the body. You always say that grieving people often feel lost, alone, and fearful. The app address that also. Would you like to talk to us a little bit about that?
Often, fear comes in a heightened arise state where you feel a threat. In the app, I talk about that and how to face it. Also, it could be in different ways. It could be the circumstances that give you fear. It could be the future that gives you fear. It can be this moment that gives you fear. It can be the fear of fear that gives you fear. The app does address all these different aspects of fear but also gives you ways of soothing the fear through the tools.
Understanding is one thing in the course and allowing you to face it through the structure. Through the tools, it gives you mechanisms of how to bring it back down so you feel calmer and safer in your body. If you’re safer in your mind, you have more capacity to think wisely. The thing about theory is it cuts you from the capacity to feel love and connected because you’re in that state. When you wind down, you’re then more open to the love of others. It is the love of others, giving and receiving that in the end is what enables us to survive the death of someone we love.
When you talk about that fear, is that also connected to what you say? It’s a common side effect of grief, which is a painful loss of identity.
Yes, because it can be the identity of a wife or a husband. It could be the identity of being a mother. It can be the identity of someone who’s loved. They all are different with multiple identities. You’re grieving on so many different levels. There’s the fear of, “Now that this person has died, how can I be me? Who is me?” You can’t fix what you don’t face. If you face that and you can name, “I am no longer a partner,” whatever kind of way that is or sibling, you feel the pain of it and then you learn to accommodate it. You can do both. The love of that person never dies and the connection with them. The relationship continues after the death, internally. You can find ways of connecting with others so that you form a different identity.
I love how your app helps people segue to move forward. That’s one of the things that I love. One of the ways you do it is you distilled your impressive expertise and knowledge into this 28-session course in the app. From what I understand, it’s step by step for a mere fifteen minutes a day. Would you like to tell us about that? How wonderful. A person is grieving. They’re so heartbroken. For only fifteen minutes a day, they can start to process and move through their grief. That’s marvelous.
For some people, they may only be able to do it for 5 minutes every 4 days. What is good about the app is that you go at your pace and speed. Some other people might want to be able to do two sessions in a day. You can shape it and make it for yourself. The 28-day course gives you this containing architecture and holding structure that you face what has happened and the pain of what has happened, the circumstances of the death, your experience of pain, what pain is, where you feel it in your body, name what your loss is, going through the different processes of grief, about guilt and fear, how the relationship continues. Through that, you’re given guidance that gently gives you a way of learning your new version of yourself now that you’re bereaved.
Does that guidance help a person too as you felt let the light in? Is that what that is?
It’s both. It’s this dual process all the time that by facing the dark and releasing the emotions of it, naming them, you then free your capacity to heal and let the light in because we need hope. There’s a part of the app that’s on hope. Hope is the alchemy that turns life around. You can’t force yourself to have hope. You can’t go for hope at the beginning. It’s overtime how you incrementally feel the pain. That can free you to open up to feel hope.
Do you also get people coping mechanisms for whatever they happen to be feeling and going through?
Yes, there are lots of coping mechanisms. There’s the journal which is incredibly helpful and people can do that in their way. They can write to the person that’s died like postcards or letters within the journal. There are these tools like exercise tools, yoga tools, meditation tools, visualization tools, heart variability tools, and all of these things. Take your choice. The point is you have a choice.
Everybody has that choice. You can go to Google and find all these things. When you’re in the grieving mind, you can’t choose and find stuff easily. You don’t navigate things easily. You feel so lost. Having everything in one place that you can touch and move at navigating very easily from tools to journals to the course makes an enormous difference.
What I particularly love which spoke to me is that you have live group sessions and one-on-one text chats with non-judgmental, empathetic therapists. You provide live chats with even qualified free therapists through the app. Can you talk about that? They’re going through the coping mechanisms and following the program but they still feel so very lost. You give them choices about how to reach out to someone.
They’d have to pay for that. It’s reduced. It’s £50 a session to talk to someone who avails and book. They can see them face to face virtually. The grief chat, they can do through texts. Every month, I do these live sessions which are growing. I’m doing one that got 2,500 people who signed up. From then, you see your new unwelcome tribe, the club that you don’t want to be a member of but you find each other. They asked me questions directly. I talk about something specifically. I’m talking about guilt and building a community like you do, where people can connect with each other.
We’re both here to serve and help a lot of people with this. We both had our experiences with grief so we understand. The other thing I love about your app is you talk about eight pillars of strength. How do these pillars help people cope better with life as they’re grieving?
You feel so empty internally. The pillars are these structures which are ways of being, an attitude, or an action that can support you to manage where you feel like you’ve been thrown into this chaotic, unpredictable place. One of them is your relationship with yourself and being self-compassionate. Often, we turn our pain against ourselves and can be very critical of ourselves.
It’s the continuing relationship with the person that’s died so that the love never dies and having touchdowns, the memory to find ways of connecting with that person. It’s the embodied sense of grief of mind-body connections and taking exercise which reduces the level of fear in your body. You have a sense of calm afterward. I’m not going to go through every pillar. If you go through the pillars, it will give you the robustness to manage all the different ways that you’re feeling.
Julia, would you happen to have a story to share with someone who’s worked through the Grief Works app and how it took them through? Would you like to share that with us? It would inspire a lot of people who are reading the show.
There was a message from someone who I would not expect. Women tend to be people who respond and follow me but this was a 68-year-old man, whose wife had died. He said that he was stuck. He wasn’t going out. He barely functioned. He wasn’t working. He found the app and it changed him within 28 days. He was ready. He said he found himself and his life through the app, which made me cry.
When I read those reviews and I see people saying how much it helped them, how much it changed them, and how much they recommend it to others, every one of them feels like, “You’re why I did it.” I need one and then it’s worth it. It’s incredibly inspirational. I feel grateful that people want to let other people know about it because when they’ve been helped, they want other people to have the help too.
That’s exactly why I’m doing this show. The same thing happens to me, Julia. I get testimonials from people thanking me for bringing them this information, which is helping them. I relate to that. The other thing I relate to, because I also derived the work with this show, is you receive so much joy from the extraordinary people you meet. One of the themes of this show is finding joy in life. When we grieve, one of the things that we need to reattach is our ability, even though we’ve had a loss, to still be able to find joy in our lives. Would you like to speak about that?
Pain is such a huge part of grief. They can be this very fixed idea that if I stay connected to the pain, that connects me to the person that has died. If I allow myself to feel joy, I will in some way be abandoning them. What I encourage is that you can move in a night. You can go back and step into your relationship with a person, connect with them, and feel what it is. Also, you can choose internally to move your attention externally and get joy from meeting someone new like you, going for a walk in nature, meeting an old friend, or having a glimmer like patting a dog or having your dog.
That feeds you and gives you the nurture that you can then go back and do some of the grief work. We need joy like we need food. Within joy, the important thing is the sense of warmth, which you can get from nature. The thing I loved is the people meeting. It’s opened the world to me of hundreds, maybe even thousands of people with whom I feel a lovely connection to. That feels very inspiring.
I feel a lot of joy meeting you because through what you do, you’re helping so many people. In my spiritual world, we would call you a light worker, Julia.
I want to share one thing. When I had my loss with my husband, I did a lot of healing work. My son said to me about a few years after the loss, “Mom, there’s been nothing worse than seeing you in total despair, and nothing better than seeing you be able to have joy again.” This is what your Grief Works app is all about.
You can feel like you’re never going to survive and then find that you do. You can thrive. For our families and people that love us, seeing us in pain, emotions are contagious. As a parent, you’re modeling. You can’t avoid the grief that you did for your husband and you had to go through that. For him, to see that you not only survive but thrive, have joy, and have great light in yourself, models for him that he can do it too. They learn not from what we say but from how we behave and live.
That’s another reason why I love your app and everything that you’re doing. Julia, this is such a remarkable, healing Grief Works app. It’s so beautifully in sync with the mission of this show, which is to educate and enlighten people about the importance and value of healing trauma and grief, along with imparting the importance of living a conscious life. I love that your app can be carried in a person’s pocket for the price of a cup of coffee a week. That’s fabulous. It makes it like a good friend, a person you can go to each day for support, helping them to traverse the depths of despair to positive transformation. That is what we are all about.
I also love that not only can a grieving person get this wonderful supportive app for him or herself but this is the best part. It makes it an incredible gift of healing for those who wish to support a loved one or friend who is experiencing the difficult and painful journey of grief. Many people have the tradition. They bring someone a casserole when they’re grieving but what about bringing them a gift of healing through the app? What an amazing gift to bring someone.
I want to thank you, Julia, for offering our audience up to a 10% discount on annual subscriptions to this wonderful app. I encourage everyone to go to IllumeApps.com/REBIRTH to find out more about accessing comfort, understanding, and invaluable tools for healing grief through the app. Julia, from my heart, thank you for all you have done over the years to teach and counsel people about grief, bring them relief, and inspire them to find the courage to heal and go on after devastating loss.
I also want to thank you for this incredibly informative, comforting, and enlightening interview. We have the potential to heal and transform many lives. Here’s a loving reminder, everyone. Make sure to follow us and like us on social at @IreneSWeinberg on Instagram, Facebook, and wherever you get your shows, including YouTube. As I like to say, to be continued. Thank you again, Julia. Many blessings. Bye for now.
Thank you so much, Irene. It’s a natural fit. It’s been a delight to be on your show.
We are. When I started learning about you, I was like, “This is such a natural fit.” It’s wonderful. It’s such a gift and a blessing for people.
- Julia Samuel’s Website
- Child Bereavement UK
- Julia Samuel’s books: Grief Works: Stories of Life, Death, and Surviving, This Too Shall Pass: Stories of Change, Crisis, and Hopeful Beginnings, Every Family Has a Story: How We Inherit Love and Loss
- Book Bundle
- Julia Samuel’s Podcast
- Get a 10% discount on the Grief Works app annual subscription
- Connect with Julia Samuel on Instagram and Facebook
- @IreneSWeinberg on Instagram
- Irene Weinberg on Facebook
- Irene Weinberg – Grief, Rebirth + Healing Podcast on YouTube
About Julia Samuel MBE
Julia Samuel MBE is a psychotherapist and paediatric counsellor specialising in grief and worked as a bereavement counsellor in the NHS paediatrics department of St Mary’s Hospital, Paddington, where she pioneered the role of maternity and paediatric psychotherapy.
In 1994 she helped launch and establish Child Bereavement UK, and as founder patron, continues to play an active role in the charity.
She has said that a trauma is a psychic wound that has not been processed, and is stored in the fight/flight/freeze part of the brain, the amygdala, and that EMDR is the best evidence-based treatment for trauma.
In 2021 she announced the launch of Grief Works App, a mobile application for iOS and Android to help the bereaved navigate their grief.
The Grief Works App: comprehensive 28-session course, more than 30 tools designed to support your mental and physical wellbeing, including live group sessions hosted by Julia, within a supportive community. Plus, you can access live chat with qualified grief counsellors when you need it the most.