A Guide to Grief Counseling
Unfortunately, we will all experience grief at some point in life. Loss is universal (whether we like it or not) — but the grief process isn’t. While we might share similar emotions or responses to loss, the journey through our grief is an incredibly individual experience.
That said, there is a key ingredient to eventually accepting a tough loss and moving forward: support. Our loved ones can offer their love and empathy, but support from a grief counselor is irreplaceable.
What Is Grief?
Grief is a deep sorrow that occurs after loss, such as the death of a loved one or the loss of a job. Grief can look drastically different from one person to the next — ranging from sadness to anger and every feeling in between — but learning to cope with one’s grief is important across the board. Fortunately, grief counseling can provide the right guidance and support for managing one’s grief.
What Is Grief Counseling?
Grief counseling is designed to help people grieve their loss(es). It helps people accept, understand, and move forward after the death of a loved one or another form of loss.
Grief counselors have specific experience, training, and skills related to this difficult journey, which enables them to assist grieving individuals.
How Do You Process the Death of a Loved One?
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 sadness, anger, guilt, confusion, and regret.
Working through these emotions and processing this painful loss will take time, and you can likely benefit from working with a grief counselor to process this painful loss.
Who Should Seek Grief Counseling?
If you’re grieving the traumatic loss of a loved friend, family member, or pet, you should consider seeking grief counseling. As we touched on above, we all grieve differently. In fact, our grief process heavily depends on several factors including the nature of our loss, our emotional state prior to the loss, and the kind of support system we have in place.
In any case, grief counseling can be beneficial. It can help those who are left reeling after losing a loved one as well as those mourning the loss of a job and others.
What Are the 5 Stages of Grief?
There are five recognized stages of grief:
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.
We tend to enter and exit these stages throughout our grief process — they don’t always follow a linear path.
How Does Grief Counseling Work?
Grief counseling helps people work through all of their feelings related to the loss and the grief they are experiencing. 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.
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 needs and goals for therapy, applying the counseling techniques that best support them.
How Can I Manage My Grief Outside of Therapy?
There are also activities you can perform outside of therapy that will help you throughout the grief process. In fact, a grief counselor can recommend certain self-care activities to work into your daily routine that might benefit you specifically.
A few of these customized tips for healing may include:
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, counting to five. Release this breath, counting to five again. Repeat this process as many times as you need to.
4) Practice mindfulness.
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 will likely be painful,l 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.