CouplesTherapy

Can Grief Counseling Help?

Written by Nicole Arzt, LMFT | Last Updated: Monday April 6, 2020
Clinical Reviewer Dr. Carolina Estevez, Psy.D, Licensed Psychologist

Grief refers to the sorrow and anguish associated with loss. While loss is a natural and universal part of life, some grief can be so strong and intense that it interferes with daily functioning. Although everyone grieves differently, people can find themselves stuck or lost in this challenging process. This is where grief counseling comes in.

Grief counseling provides support, compassion, and practical coping tools for people enduring loss. While it doesn’t solve all the stressors associated with grief, it can provide a roadmap for healing and moving forward. 

What Do We Grieve Over? 

Most of us assume that grief  is only a response to the death of a loved one. While death is one of the most difficult experiences we endure, it’s certainly not the only type of loss we face.

Grief can happen when we lose a person, but it can also occur when we undergo other significant losses in our lives. These losses may include a breakup or divorce job loss, or geographical relocation. They may also be more abstract. For example, if someone is diagnosed with a health condition, he might grieve the life he used to have before getting sick. In essence, grief can manifest whenever we lose someone or something of value. 

Grief Counseling

What Are The Different Kinds Of Grief?

While grief is a universal emotion, it can often be misunderstood, suppressed, and even invalidated. Furthermore, there are many different kinds of grief, and these differences can impact the way people feel and react. The main types of grief include: 

Anticipatory Grief 

Anticipatory grief refers to anticipating death. This grief can accompany a life-threatening illness like terminal cancer or dementia. The griever is simultaneously preparing for death while navigating the changes in their loved one’s health.

Delayed Grief

Delayed grief occurs when grief symptoms emerge much later than when the loss happened. In some cases, it can take many years for the grief to manifest, and the delay happens due to the griever consciously or unconsciously suppressing the pain. Delayed grief can happen for many reasons. Sometimes, the griever attempts to postpone “dealing with their feelings” to manage other practical problems. Other times, the griever takes on the role of being the ‘strong one,’ which results in them taking care of other people rather than themselves.  

Prolonged Grief

Prolonged grief refers to intense, long-term grief that continues to persist for several months or years. The griever spends a great deal of time thinking about their loved one, the death itself, and feels unable to move on.

Inhibited Grief

Inhibited grief can occur in people who struggle to identify and express their feelings. They may approach the grief with logic and reason, but the lack of ability to address their emotions can result in significant distress. 

Disenfranchised Grief

Disenfranchised grief occurs when society or a particular group indirectly or directly shames the cause of death (drug overdose, suicide, drunk driving) or the person who died. This type of grief often makes the griever feel isolated and invalidated in their experiences. 

Traumatic Grief

Traumatic grief can occur when someone died in a violent, harsh, or otherwise traumatic way. The griever might find themselves ruminating over the cause of death and may experience residual trauma symptoms like avoidance, flashbacks, nightmares, or panic attacks.

Collective Grief

Collective grief refers to community-based grief, which can occur in the aftermath of natural disasters, war, or terrorist attacks.  

Grief Counseling: What is It?

Grief counseling with a licensed mental health professional provides a nonjudgmental and compassionate space for people coping with a recent or past loss. Counseling may integrate a variety of treatment goals. Here are some grief counseling techniques.

 

Exploring Feelings and Thoughts Related to the Loss

People often benefit from having a space where they can speak what’s on their mind. Therapy offers this space without the unsolicited advice or generic cliches often associated with grief.  

Coping with Trauma Related to the Loss

It’s not uncommon to experience shame or loss as a result of grief, especially if the loss included trauma. Therapy can help provide coping skills for mitigating trauma symptoms.

Sharing Stories, Insight, or Lessons Learned

Finding meaning through loss can help people feel more at peace with themselves and with moving forward. 

Navigating Life Changes as a Result of the Loss

Many people feel overwhelmed with new tasks or responsibilities in the aftermath of a loss. Therapy can provide support and guidance in coping with these transitions.

Building a Healthy Support System 

Research continues to highlight the numerous benefits associated with having a healthy support system. Therapy can help strengthen the social skills associated with creating and maintaining friendships.

Strengthening a Sense of Acceptance for the Loss

While acceptance for loss may feel impossible, therapy can help people come to terms with what happened. In doing this, people feel more empowered to move forward with their lives. 

Online Grief Counseling

When Should Someone Consider Grief Counseling?

Anyone struggling with grief can benefit from counseling. Subsequently, people don’t need a ‘specific’ reason to reach out to a therapist for help. Grief therapy doesn’t adhere to a linear timeline. Therefore, counseling can be beneficial during any stage.

It’s normal to experience intense emotions when a loss occurs. There isn’t a standard response to loss, but people often cycle through a combination of shock and disbelief, sadness, anger, guilt, and fear. They might also experience physical symptoms like aches and pain, fatigue, and nausea.

For most people, these emotions lessen in severity with time. However, for some people, the grief persists, and the symptoms can feel so debilitating that it feels impossible to move forward in life. These symptoms might include: 

  • Feeling sad for most or all of the day
  • Finding it difficult to concentrate at work and during other tasks 
  • Experiencing appetite changes and weight fluctuations
  • Struggling with sleep
  • Feeling disconnected or numb from reality
  • Having problems in interpersonal relationships with friends and family
  • Experiencing profound loneliness and a sense of emptiness
  • Experiencing intense rage 
  • Desiring to hurt oneself or others
  • Feeling a loss of identity or purpose 

 

Final Thoughts on Grief Counseling

Grief counseling offers a safe and supportive environment for people struggling with loss. No matter the type of loss, the feelings can be downright overwhelming. Reaching out for help can provide reassurance and comfort during this vulnerable time.

While grief is an unavoidable part of life, it shouldn’t be the defining factor. If grief is blocking you from happiness or fulfillment, counseling can help you find the relief you need.

Writer Biography

Nicole Arzt

LMFT

Nicole Arzt, LMFT is a licensed marriage & family therapist with nearly a decade of experience treating issues related to anxiety and mood disorders, parenting and family dynamics, complex trauma, and substance use disorders. A professional content writer, she has authored hundreds of scholarly articles for mental health professionals, treatment facilities, and nonprofit organizations. Nicole lives in Southern California with her husband and son.

Clinical Reviewer

Dr. Carolina Estevez

Psy.D, Licensed Psychologist

Dr. Estevez is a clinical psychologist licensed in the State of Florida. She specializes in the administration and interpretation of a variety of psychological tests including personality evaluations, diagnostic assessments, academic and neuropsychological tests, and vocational and disability assessments. Dr. Estevez has provided individual and group psychotherapy to diverse mental health populations in inpatient, outpatient, community mental health, and substance abuse rehabilitation settings. She has worked with individuals of all ages and with a variety of diagnoses including mood and anxiety disorders, personality disorders, behavioral and developmental disorders, psychotic disorders, and trauma-related disorders

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