Grief, Loss, and Bereavement: Grief Counseling Can Help
It hit Sam the hardest. His dad was his hero, and he couldn’t accept that his dad was now gone. The morning he got the call was the worst morning of his life and every day since has been brutal.
Sam can’t bring himself to get out of bed and attend his classes. He’s even stopped replying to his professors. All he can think about is his dad and how much he misses him already.
Sam’s mom grows increasingly concerned about her son. While she’s also grieving the loss of Sam’s dad, she knows that the loss hit Sam in a different way. Fortunately, she convinces Sam to talk to a grief counselor about all of his complicated emotions. While Sam has his doubts in the beginning, he quickly feels at ease and begins to open up.
Over the course of several months, his grief counselor helps him confront all of his feelings related to his dad’s death and accept that his dad is no longer physically there. Sam acknowledges that his dad’s memory will never leave him and that he would want Sam to live a happy, fulfilling life.
What Is Grief?
When someone important in your life passes away, it can feel like your whole world is crashing down. Often, grieving the death of a loved one can come with a wide range of difficult feelings, including feelings of sadness, anger, guilt, confusion, and regret.
One person’s grief reaction can differ greatly from the next person’s. And learning to cope with one’s grief can prove difficult. Fortunately, grief counseling can provide the right guidance and support.
Grief counseling is designed to help people through their grieving process. It helps people accept, understand, and move forward after a devastating loss. Mental health professionals who specialize in grief counseling have specific experience, training, and skills related to this difficult journey, which enables them to assist these individuals.
Who Should Seek Grief Counseling?
If you’re grieving the loss of a loved friend, family member, or pet, grief counseling can help. As we touched on above, we all grieve differently. The grief process heavily depends on the nature of our loss, our emotional state prior to the loss, and what support system we have in place.
That said, there are five recognized stages of grief, also known as models of bereavement. We tend to enter and exit these stages throughout our grief process. If you’re grieving a tough loss, you might experience the following:
1) Denial and seclusion: The last thing anyone wants to hear is that a loved one has passed. Instead of accepting this news, we reject it and insist that it can’t be true. This is our way of avoiding the devastating feelings that come with a difficult loss.
2) Anger: Many also respond to loss with anger or other “negative” emotions because it’s easier to lash out than to feel the pain.
3) Bargaining: Another emotion that often takes over after a devastating loss is guilt. We start to wonder if and how we could have prevented it from happening or what we should have said before “it was too late.”
4) Depression: When those painful feelings flood in, they often overshadow everything else. When we enter this stage of grief, it’s important to lean on our support system.
5) Acceptance: In this stage of grief (which often marks the end of the grieving cycle), we accept that we’ve lost this person and find the peace that we need to move forward.
A grief counselor can help, whether you’re struggling to accept the reality of your loss, you’re lashing out in anger, feeling extreme guilt, or suffering the severe pain of grief. In any case, a grief counselor can help you come to terms with your loss and move forward.
How Does Counseling for Grief Work?
Grief counseling helps people work through all of their feelings related to the loss and the grief they are experiencing. The methods used in grief counseling ensure an individual is grieving properly. In summary, the main goals of grief counseling are:
- Acknowledgment: First, a grief counselor can help you acknowledge the reality of your loss. Then, they’ll offer support as you reflect on the loss and the impact the individual has had on your life. This is an important step toward healing and moving forward from the pain. It often involves addressing anger, guilt, hopelessness, confusion, and/or abandonment.
- Acceptance: Your grief counselor will also assist you in accepting all that comes with grief and loss. As mentioned previously, once you’re able to accept the nature of your loss, you have a bright future ahead. However, it can (and likely will) take some time and work to get there.
That said, grief counseling often varies from client to client, considering grief isn’t one-size-fits-all. Your counselor wants to make sure you get the dedicated care that you need and deserve.
They’ll assess you and then design treatment around your state of being as well as your goals for therapy. They can help you work through those tough emotions and find grief support groups. They can also offer customized tips for healing, like:
1) Be extra kind to yourself right now.
Grief is often overwhelmingly painful. It’s important that you are extra kind to yourself as you work through your pain.
Self-care and self-compassion can help you heal from your loss. Identify a few activities that allow you to release your emotions and heal your pain. A few examples include journaling, crafting, exercising, and spending time with loved ones.
Also, if you need to take a few days off of work or take a step back in other areas of your life, that’s okay. Give yourself permission to take the time that you need.
2) Take care of your body.
There is a lot of emphasis on taking care of your mind and your soul during this time. It’s also important, though, that you take care of your body. This means getting plenty of restful sleep, eating nutritious foods, and staying hydrated.
It can be easy to put these basics on the backburner when you’re grieving the death of a loved one. Place emphasis on taking good care of your body. If you’re struggling to sleep or eat during this time, let your therapist know.
3) Practice breathing techniques and mindfulness.
If you didn’t include deep breathing or mindfulness in the self-care activities you identified earlier, consider adding them to your list. Deep breathing can help you calm an anxious mind and you can engage in this activity anytime, anywhere.
Take a deep breath in, and count to five. Release this breath, and count to five. Repeat this process as many times as you need to.
Mindfulness can also be helpful and healing during times of grief. If your mind is overwhelmed, try focusing on your immediate surroundings.
First, identify 5 things you can see. Second, identify 4 things you can feel. Third, identify 3 things you can hear. Fourth, identify 2 things you can smell. Lastly, identify 1 thing you can taste.
A combination of grief counseling and self-care can help you grieve your loss properly. This period of time might be painful but you will get through it.
Quick Facts About Grief and Grief Counseling
- Grief can cause forgetfulness, disorganization, an inability to concentrate, and lack of interest or motivation.
- Research shows 10-15% of people have severe reactions to the loss of a loved one, which mainly occurs in those with depression prior to the loss.
- The duration and intensity of grief depend on multiple variables such as the individual’s support system and emotional state prior to the loss.
- Grief typically lasts a year and most people return to normal functioning by 18 months of grieving. However, as we’ve covered, the periods of time spent grieving can also vary.
- Trauma treatment is an effective model for treating complicated grief.
- Crying isn’t the only response to sadness or grief; it’s normal to cry after a tough loss and it’s normal not to cry.
- Contrary to popular belief, men suffer (at least) just as much from bereavement as women.
- Moving on means accepting the loss; it does not mean forgetting the individual lost.