What Is Grief Therapy and How Does It Work?

crying man on a couch

Everyone experiences grief at some point in life. While it’s common, adapting to a significant loss is complicated. Your beliefs, cultural background, and how consequential the loss is in your life affect how you experience grief. It’s common to grieve the loss of a loved one, the dissolution of a relationship, or how your life changes following a significant illness.

When grieving, people experience a range of emotions such as sadness, guilt, longing, anger, and regret. These emotions can occur in any order, at any time, and in differing intensities. You may waiver between sadness over your loss and intense anger or wallow in regret and guilt about things you didn’t do or say.

If you’re struggling to process a significant loss in your life, you may benefit from working with a therapist who can guide you in establishing a new way of life. Grief therapy helps you process the emotions you experience following a loss and your reactions to those emotions.

What is Grief?

Grief describes the thoughts, emotions, and behaviors following a significant loss in your life. The type of grief you experience and the intensity vary based on the loss type. You may experience the loss of an elderly parent differently than the loss of a child. The ending of marriage will cause an entirely different grief reaction. A loss caused by a traumatic event such as a car accident may cause another type of grief than a loss from prolonged illness.

Stages of Grief

5 stages of grief

As you move through the grieving process, you’ll work to create a new reality. Many people use the process of grief referenced in Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s proposed five stages of dealing with grief in her 1969 book, On Death and Dying. Those stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Many people find they waiver between stages or experience them out of order. For some people, knowing the stages of grief helps them understand what to expect and calms worry and anxiety. Others, however, feel if they aren’t experiencing the steps in order or at a certain pace, they experience increasing anxiety.

It’s important to remember that grief is a very individual process. No person experiences loss in the same way and the same person can have different grief reactions to different life changes. The important thing is to give yourself grace as you process your loss and find grief support in friends, family members, and a mental health professional if needed.

When is it Time to Seek Professional Help for Grief?

Some people find their grieving thoughts and emotions become less intense over time. Eventually, they develop coping skills to help when thoughts of their loss pop up and move on to create a joyful life. Sometimes, however, people struggle to accept a loss and move on for so long that it negatively impacts other areas of their lives. This is especially common if you’ve experienced multiple losses in a brief time or cases of traumatic grief. If grief causes you to experience the following symptoms for a long time without improvement, it may be time to seek professional help.

woman crying and man consoling her
  • Suicidal thoughts, thoughts of self-harm, or intrusive thoughts
  • Unrelenting depression
  • Loss of appetite
  • Problems sleeping due to insomnia, nightmares, etc.
  • Panic attacks or intense worry and anxiety
  • Trouble completing daily tasks and a lack of motivation to do things you once enjoyed
  • Increased irritability and anger
  • Feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, and worthlessness
  • Addictive behaviors or substance abuse such as drinking more or gambling
  • Lack of self-care, losing your identity, poor self-esteem
  • Trouble believing that your loved one is dead or constantly reliving the loss
  • Social isolation

If you experience these symptoms without improvement for a while and your usual coping mechanisms don’t work, trying a few therapy sessions can help you move on.

How Does Grief Counseling Help

signs with stages of grief

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the emotions of the grieving process. When that happens, you get swept up in a roller coaster of sadness, anger, and longing, and it may be difficult for you to see a way forward. You may feel there isn’t any way to build a meaningful life after loss. You may struggle to connect with family members and friends, and your productivity at work may suffer. Or, maybe you haven’t allowed yourself to feel the sadness of your loss. Some people stuff their emotions down and focus only on the tasks of daily life. These people often feel angry, anxious, or depressed but can’t identify why.

Grief counseling sessions with a mental health professional can help you learn to experience the pain of grief in healthy ways and manage your emotions, so they don’t take over. You’ll have a safe space to develop coping skills, tools, and strategies to help you manage the difficult moments so you can move through your grieving process more quickly and with less disruption to the other areas of your life.

What are The Grief Counseling Techniques?

Grief therapy relies on evidence-based tools you’ll learn during therapy sessions and practice in your daily life. The form of treatment and tools you’ll use with your therapist depend on the type of loss you’ve experienced, your therapist’s experience, and your individual needs.

Acceptance and commitment therapy focuses on accepting pain as a normal part of life. If your therapist employs these techniques, you’ll practice mindfulness to focus on your present moment. You’ll learn that you can observe negative thoughts and feelings as harmless and temporary events. You’ll start accepting the negative emotions associated with grief and learn to enjoy your life even with transient feelings of sadness and loss.

compass dial pointing at acceptance
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for grief helps you identify your negative thought patterns and behaviors and work to change them. This may work well if overwhelming feelings of grief cause you to engage in harmful behaviors or withdraw from family and friends.
  • Traumatic grief therapy may be helpful in the case of a traumatic loss. This technique can help you understand the trauma response and how it impacts your grieving process.
  • Art therapy or play therapy involves the use of creative processes to help you move through your grief and promote healing. Art therapy may include painting, drawing, making collages, or sculpting. Play therapy provides children a safe space to express emotions and develop coping skills.
  • Group therapy can help if you don’t have friends or family members who understand grief. People need connections with other humans to make it through difficult experiences. If you don’t have a grief support system, group therapy may help.

Reach Out Today to Start Your Healing Process

AT SMPsychotherapy, our counselors have experience helping people manage difficult life experiences. We can provide individualized support to help you deal with the pain of grief, address complicated or traumatic grief, and learn to create a new normal.It’s common to struggle with the grieving process, especially in a society that expects you to get on with life, maintain your productivity at work, and focus on positive thinking. Our therapists will meet you where you are and guide you in healing without toxic positivity or unrealistic expectations. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.

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