Princess Diana’s friend, psychotherapist Julia Samuel, on the Grief Works app she helped launch and which taps her 30 years of experience helping others through loss
- Former Headspace research head helped Julia Samuel turn two books on getting past grief into app content to give round-the-clock support to people mourning loss
- There is no one-size-fits-all way to mourn, she says, and Grief Works app lets users explore what is right for them through meditation, breathwork and guidance
Julia Samuel, a British psychotherapist, has had a long career caring for those suffering from grief.
She has worked in the field for more than 30 years and written two books, Grief Works: Stories of Life, Death and Surviving in 2017 and This Too Shall Pass: Stories of Change, Crisis and Hopeful Beginnings in 2020.
When Begley got in touch with her about creating an app that could help people put the advice from the books into practice, Samuel was “really keen”.
“Fast forward two years, we now have an app that can offer high-quality grief support that anyone can carry around with them and turn to at any time,” she says.
“You can download and use it immediately for the price of a coffee a week, and you can interact with it not unlike the way you would with a counsellor – only it’s available to you 24 hours a day.”
In 1994, Samuel was involved in launching Child Bereavement UK and, as a founding patron, is still involved with the charity.
This is a far cry from her privileged, society girl upbringing. Born into the Anglo-Irish brewing and banking Guinness family, her father was James Rundell Guinness from the banking side, her brother Hugo is a well-known artist and illustrator, and her sister, television producer Sabrina Guinness – now Lady Stoppard – famously dated Prince Charles before he married Diana Spencer.
Samuel, who at age 20 married into the Hill Samuel family, was known in the late 1980s and ’90s for being a close friend of Diana, Princess of Wales. They met at a dinner in 1987.
“In my late 20s, I worked as a volunteer with [mental health charity] Mind, and then I worked as a volunteer in a bereavement service and rapidly realised that this was the work I would want to do for the rest of my life,” says the 62-year-old, who was made an MBE by Queen Elizabeth in 2016. “It was the deep connection to others, creating a relationship and being able to make a difference that inspired me.”
She explains how she was drawn to work in the field of grief. “Both my parents had experienced multiple significant losses before I was born, but didn’t talk about them. I was drawn to know what was really going on psychologically, which led me to realise that we need to love and remember those who have died, rather than forget and move on – which was my parents’ response.”
Grief Works has prompts and practices to guide users to explore their feelings and write down their thoughts in a journal, and gives advice on how to approach sensitive topics that typically crop up in the bereavement process, such as how to manage milestone dates like anniversaries, how to say no when everything gets too overwhelming, and how to honour a loved one’s memory.
“If there’s one thing I’ve learned from more than 30 years counselling the bereaved, it’s that there is no one-size-fits-all way to mourn, and it’s certainly not a linear process, so the app gives you the time and space to explore what is right for you, guiding you to a place where you can live and love again,” says Samuel.
Samuel notes that unresolved grief is at the root of 15 per cent of all mental disorders.
“Unresolved grief can lead to complex grief and depression, both of which can deteriorate and be utterly disabling, whether in the short or long term. If grief is not dealt with as soon as possible, it tends to come out in some unexpected way in the future,” she explains.
“It will be like you’re talking to a therapist – but I’m not sure how I feel about a non-sentient being giving advice on how to live and love.”