Spotlight Article in New Psychotherapist Spring 2024
Written by Mandy Gosling
June 4, 2024

“Loss in childhood is often hidden and shrouded in shame”

UKCP THERAPIST MANDY GOSLING EXPLAINS HOW UNRESOLVED CHILDHOOD GRIEF CAN CAUSE DIFFICULTIES IN ADULT LIFE, AND WHY GREATER AWARENESS IS URGENTLY NEEDED

After a career in medical sales and while raising her family, Mandy Gosling began training in psychotherapy in 2009. Having achieved multiple qualifications, she focused on unresolved childhood grief, which became the subject of her master’s degree. Alongside clinical practice specialising in working with adults who have experienced a parental or sibling death as children, Mandy works to raise awareness of the long-term impact of childhood grief by giving talks, conducting research and lobbying the government.

Why did you become a psychotherapist?

I’ve always been interested in relationships and the complexity of the human psyche, and as a young adult I started reading books to help me understand more about psychology. But life can take you down a different path, and when I had a young family my focus was on them. When I turned 46 I found myself in a job that was unfulfilling, and I asked myself ‘what about the next part of my life?’ I decided to do a one-year foundation course in counselling to see what I thought. I enjoyed it and liked how my teacher taught. She had trained at the Centre for Counselling and Psychotherapy Education [CCPE], so I decided to enrol there for my diploma. I never looked anywhere else, and I never looked back. Now I don’t even think about my life before I became a psychotherapist, it feels so long ago.

Prior to your training, what did you think of psychotherapy?
I’d never experienced it, so I don’t think I valued it. There was an assumption growing up that therapy was for very severe issues. In my 20s I had lots of anxiety and poor selfesteem, I felt worthless and I always struggled in relationships. Now I know much more about why I was in that space. I think that is a common experience; people struggle but they don’t know why. Therapy help gives people the knowledge that there’s nothing wrong with them, it’s what has happened to them.

Tell us about your own personal experience of psychotherapy…
I valued the consistency and it gave me the opportunity to be listened to and heard without judgement. I was bereaved when I was nine years old when my mother died aged 36. Yet in the first four years of therapy, I never mentioned the loss of my mother. Therapy allowed me to find the strength to continue understanding myself, which has led me to where I am today.

What made you decide to focus on unresolved childhood grief and childhood development?
When it came to doing my master’s at CCPE, I was unclear on what to research. I was 51 and the question arose about my own childhood bereavement, however it still felt painful. My tutor encouraged me, and when I began my research I realised how much was missing in that particular area of grief. I wanted to understand the whys and wherefores of the long-term impact of unresolved childhood grief in adults.

In what ways might unresolved grief in childhood manifest in adult life?
This is where the nuances and complexities exist – there isn’t an exact template of how it presents. The factors of pre-bereavement, the type of loss and how it was handled at the time, and post bereavement all impact the outcome. However, some of the common themes present as anxiety and depression, health anxiety, addictions and PTSD symptoms. There can be physical manifestations, as evidenced in many studies from trauma and grief. Clients regularly present with a sense of self that has not received the nourishment it needed. This shows as low self-esteem, difficulties in forming and maintaining relationships, parenting challenges and emotional disregulation. The delayed grief can be recognised in psychiatric diagnosis, presenting as prolonged grief disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, obsessivecompulsive disorder and personality disorder. While some of these presentations are common for us to see in clinic, the root cause is grief that needs to be understood and worked through.

Where has your focus on grief led you to today?
I work with adults who experienced a parental or sibling death as children and, in the most part, did not receive support at the time. Often my clients are relieved to find someone who understands this phenomenon. I set up a resource website, abcgrief.co.uk, and today I speak regularly on the topic. I attended the inaugural European Grief Conference in 2022, where I met Professor Dr Geert Smid who specialises in prolonged and traumatic grief, and we are now working together on some research. I continue to find opportunities to collaborate with others in the bereavement sector, charities and the media. This year, I have been offering workshops for individuals, developing training for therapists, alongside running group therapy for a charity. I have also been interviewed on several podcasts, most recently on Conversations with Annalisa Barbieri.

What do you wish people knew about this specialist area?
That it exists. The topic of adults bereaved as children and the impact of unresolved grief is often overlooked. Because it’s historical grief, people don’t necessarily understand the impact it is having many years later. Often I’ll see clients 20, 30, 40 years after their loss, and their unresolved grief is causing great difficulty in adult life.

‘Approximately one in 20 children are bereaved in early life’

What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced?
Doing my master’s was a big challenge for me. At the time, I felt I couldn’t achieve that qualification because my education was disrupted as a bereaved child. I was encouraged by a colleague and found it incredibly valuable personally and professionally. I was awarded a distinction, which felt good. My other challenge is trying to get the topic of unresolved childhood grief in adults understood and better known in the wider society.

Have you encountered complexities when working with people who’ve experienced childhood grief, as it’s something you’ve experienced?
There are complexities when working as a therapist with something you have experienced yourself, but that has to be recognised. Working through your own material in our profession is vital, as well as receiving adequate supervision. I regard my experience as a gift, it heightens my empathy with others
suffering the same experience. I also know what is possible when you undertake the psychotherapy journey as an adult with unresolved childhood grief. Many of my clients want to work with me because I have experienced the same thing, they often don’t feel understood and I regularly hear from them  finally, you get it’. Being an adult who was bereaved as a child can be a lonely place, there is something very special when you can walk alongside another person and watch them grow beyond their suffering.

Are there any mentors who helped you along the way?
My therapist and my tutor. I’ve been with the same therapist since I started out in 2010, and still see her periodically. I’ve also known my tutor since 2010, and she still supports my work. I trust them both completely, and I value their guidance today.

How long have you been a member of the UKCP?
For my whole career. My course was UKCP-accredited, so I began as a trainee member and went on to full membership. This is important to me. The UKCP’s framework of high clinical and ethical requirements means therapists must uphold these standards and this gives the public confidence in what they receive.