How can you mend a broken heart?

- February 11, 2005

When Al Green sang this musical question, he was not alone - the "broken heart" has been the inspiration for songs, books, poetry, and movies for as long as anyone can remember. The popular TV show Ally McBeal almost celebrated the broken heart. Its episodes often ended with a reflective montage, showing its lead character walking sadly through the streets of New York, miserable at the latest turn of events in her love life.

The broken heart has long been accepted as a necessary rite of passage; a difficult event that, with time, evolves into a learning experience that helps us to grow. Although most people usually can recover from a broken relationship on their own, others need help to move on with their lives.

Dalhousie's Counselling Services recognizes this need, particularly among students, and has come up with a unique group designed to help those reeling from a breakup take control of their lives and move on. "Solutions: A Relationship Loss Group" was formed by counselor and psychologist, Dr. David Mensink. The group helps students who are having difficulty letting go of a partner, and who can not seem to stop feeling upset over the breakup. The group is open to all students, including couples who are going through a break-up, or have already broken up.

Another surprising factor is the number of so-called "heartbreakers" who attend the group - the partner in the relationship who has decided to leave. Although they have made the choice to leave the relationship, they are often just as upset, and unable to "move on" as the person they broke up with.

"This is the person in the relationship who is usually thought of in negative terms, especially if it was a particularly contentious breakup," says Dr. Mensink. "All the sympathy usually goes to the broken-hearted, which they certainly are entitled to. But, we tend to forget that the other person is going through a hard time as well. There is guilt, indecision, and sometimes even an unwillingness on the part of that person to let go, although they in fact made the decision to break up," he says.

Dr. Mensink became interested in beginning this group on campus when he became aware of the number of students seeking counseling services for dealing with break-ups. His interest in this area was also fueled by his work in divorce mediation prior to coming to Dal.

For some who might dismiss the importance of a broken heart to a young adult, Dr. Mensink points out that for some, a broken relationship can have serious consequences. In some cases, a breakup can lead to suicidal thoughts and feelings, or worse. Solutions helps students to grieve their loss, improve their self-esteem, develop personal goals and plan for their future. There used to be separate Solutions groups, based on gender, but the latest group is mixed. "We have seen many similarities between the way males and females deal with a breakup," he says. "When you think about it, we all have the same needs when it comes to a relationship. We all need to feel loved and cared for, we need respect, we need to feel that there is a balance of power, and we also need to feel some sense of certainty or confidence in the relationship."

Counselling Services also offers other groups dealing with specific issues, including helping students deal with the divorce of their parents, self confidence and self esteem workshops, and a relationship skills workshop, which helps teach students the basics of a good relationship before it gets to the breakup stage.

Counselling Services is located on the fourth floor of the Student Union Building. For a full schedule of programs and workshops, check out

Dr. Mensink is involved in a number of awareness activities this month in his capacity as President of the Association of Psychologists of Nova Scotia. February has been declared Psychology Month by the Canadian Psychology Association and the Council of Provincial Associations of Psychologists.  


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