14 Minutes

Edited & medically reviewed by THE BALANCE Team
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Even though grief is an inevitable part of life, when you lose a loved one, it is always a challenging and unexpected situation to cope with. It is the same when the loss is expected as well. It brings up lots of different and complex emotions, and its reality feels far greater than what you had anticipated. There is no way you can prepare to grieve.

In this article, we will discuss everything there is about coping with your grief through grief counseling. The steps of grief counseling, the techniques of grief counseling as well as grief therapy, the role of grief therapy. In the end, we will talk about the treatment plans for grief and loss. But before that, let us discuss what grief itself is.

Grief is a reaction that comes naturally to any form of loss, especially an individual’s death. It goes deeper than just sadness and mostly brings up feelings of confusion, guilt, anger, doubt, and other complex emotions.

Mental Health Counseling

There’s no correct or wrong way to grieve. Every person reacts to loss in their own way. Apart from this, there is also no duration for grief that can be factually said; it could take months or years to accept the loss of a loved one. Nonetheless, a lot of people can very much recover from loss thanks to the help of a very nicely constructed social support network and healthy coping mechanisms. Grief counseling gives the necessary support for those that find it difficult to move on and recover.

Grief counseling, also known as bereavement counseling, is made to help people cope with the loss of loved ones. A grief counselor can help you learn methods and strategies for coping with your grief and loss. Grief counseling allows bereaved people to discuss their feelings and emotions in the right environment, helping them find ways to ease the grieving process.

Grief counseling is recommended mostly for people whose grief:

  • Interferes with daily activities;
  • It makes them feel guilty or depressed;
  • It makes it difficult to carry on with their private lives;
  • Brings up problems in their existing relationships.

 1-Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)

Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a type of therapy that consists of learning to identify wrong thought patterns so you can put in the effort to change them. The basics of this treatment are on the important premise that by understanding how to cope with your bad behaviors and thoughts, you can let go of symptoms and live a healthier, more productive life every day. If you are looking for more action-oriented counseling, you can look for counselors specifically trained in CBT. CBT has been proven in many types of research and studies to be a form of therapy that results in a great improvement in quality of life. It’s known to be as effective as, if not more than, several other types of therapy.  

This type of therapy for grief works by helping you become aware of your bad thought patterns. Such patterns can lead to misbehaviors that make it hard to process grief. During CBT sessions, a therapist may ask you to talk about what your thoughts are at that moment or what you’re feeling in terms of your grief. Identifying these bad thought patterns could help you learn how they impact your behavior. CBT grief therapy tools that are used to promote healing often include:

  • Cognitive Reframing or Restructuring: Cognitive reframing or restructuring allows you to become aware of bad thought patterns or distortions. You go through sessions to identify bad thought patterns first, so you can then begin to take a right, healthy steps to change them.
  • Targeting Behaviors: In targeting behaviors, therapists address unhelpful or harmful behaviors or habits and replace them with helpful ones.
  • Developing a New Narrative: Developing a new narrative is a technique that helps you come up with a new narrative about your loss. It softens the bad thoughts and feelings rather than dwelling on them.

2-Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT)

Acceptance and commitment therapy allows you to learn how to accept negative emotions and situations and then learn healthy patterns. It hones in on your ability to make your psychological flexibility better which helps you to accept your feelings rather than trying to run away from them, feeling guilty about them, or avoiding them completely. Psychological flexibility is the ability to be very present and in the moment of your life.

Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) uses mindfulness to help in processing grief and accepting loss. Such therapy may be used to ease prolonged or complicated grief that has continued for a year or more after a loss occurs. ACT helps you reevaluate a loss emotionally. It also allows you to begin processing any emotions you may have been avoiding dealing with. ACT uses quite a few grief therapy techniques to achieve acceptance and healing. These may include:

  • Acceptance of negative feelings and emotions;
  • Distancing from negative feelings and emotions so that you understand them better;
  • Focusing on the present;
  • Observing your self-experiences in different situations and circumstances;
  • Learning your own worth;
  • Overcoming toughness through the use of the previous techniques.

3-Traumatic grief therapy

Traumatic grief therapy allows an individual to process sudden trauma-related grief, such as losing someone they loved unexpectedly. This type of therapy looks at trauma response and the grief that occurs with a traumatic (usually unexpected) death. 

 4-Complicated grief therapy (CGT)

In CGT, individuals learn how to address the symptoms of complicated grief. This type of grief can conclude in feelings of hopelessness and prolonged, intense sadness. People experiencing complicated grief can fixate on the person they lost or on the situation surrounding the death. CGT mostly includes acceptance and commitment therapy.

5- Group Therapy

Group therapy for grief is done with small groups of individuals that gather to share thoughts and feelings with others who are also experiencing some sort of grief. Mostly, groups are formed by people who are recovering from similar experiences. Support groups may offer a brave and safe surrounding for you to share and heal in a private, supportive and loving environment. 

6-Art therapy

Art therapy uses creativity to promote healing and help you get through your grief. It may improve, support, and help you be able to function on a daily. Art therapy came into being with the belief that artistic and creative self-expression could have a healing effect on people. Painting, drawing, coloring, making collages, and also sculpting are all usual activities that occur during art therapy sessions. 

7-Play therapy

Play therapy uses imaginative or other types of play to help children process their grief. It offers children a safe area to express their feelings while also giving them tools that may let them self-regulate their emotions. Play therapy is very good for children as they are mostly unable to articulate feelings, emotions, and problems that they are experiencing, especially after a major loss. Giving them an outlet to be able to let their heart out can be extremely beneficial in their grief recovery.

Deciding to see a grief counselor is normally a rather decision, especially when you’re in grief. Hence, it is understandable if you are skeptical about grief counseling in the beginning. However, you are not required to reach severe levels of grief to go for grief counseling. It helps to go see a grief counselor even if you’re only in need of a surrounding to talk about the reason for your grief without being fearful of any judgment or if you just need help processing your emotions as you grieve.

It is also helpful to take into consideration the kind of experiences an individual needs help with; they could require to find a grief counselor with expertise in a certain specialty, along with grief. For example, if they want to go for grief counseling as a family, then a family and marriage therapist could be their best choice. For those who have experienced the loss of a loved one, the best type of counselor would be a mental health professional that has specialized in trauma.

The Two Steps a Grief Counselor Must Take 

The two major steps a grief counselor is required to take while working with someone that is dealing with the loss of a loved one are as follows:

  1. The first step is creating a trusting relationship with the patient to foster a safe and comfortable environment for the bereaved to easily share the situation of their loss.
  2. The second step, apart from keenly listening to the person in grief, involves the counselor asking specific questions about how the nature of the patient’s relationship with the deceased was. If the relationship with the deceased was a hard or frustrating one, counseling would possibly need a different approach than it would in a situation where there was a strong relationship between the patient and the deceased.

Grief counseling is not just for adults coping with losing a loved one. Grief counselors may focus on problems such as people who lost a coworker; children trying to come into terms with the loss of a parent, a friend, or a pet; patients in hospital care; women or couples who need to go through with a miscarriage; and individuals who have gone through a traumatic event.

Generally, it looks like the scientifically demonstrated efficiency of formal interventions for those suffering from grief is distressingly low, much lower than that of most other types of psychotherapeutic interventions. This is an evaluation that goes against the professional experience of many counselors in the field. As disappointing as they may be, however, these findings should be considered carefully by counselors in the field, lest we miss a good opportunity to enhance the practice of grief counseling. Grief counseling may not be required by most grievers; grief counseling might not work in the way that it is normally delivered in research studies, and the good effects of grief counseling may be veiled by methodological problems in the design and the way the studies are implemented.

A popular model dealing with grief comes from J. W. Worden, who proposed the “Four Tasks of Mourning” as a way for humans to heal: 

  1. Acceptance of the loss’s reality 
  2. To be able to work through the sadness of bereavement 
  3. Getting used to life without the person who has passed away 
  4. Maintaining a link to the departed while moving on with one’s life (Mastrangelo & Wood, 2016)

In most cases, the distinction between counseling and therapy is purely conceptual.  However, the terms “counseling” and “therapy” are sometimes used in slightly different ways; counseling is more commonly used to describe sessions focused on assisting clients who are dealing with everyday stressors and looking for ways to cope with normal issues and problems, whereas therapy is more frequently used to describe sessions in which clients are battling more difficult, pervasive, and/or chronic problems, such as depression, anxiety, or addiction.

There are two critical first stages for working with a new client grieving from their loss, according to Dr. Robert A. Neimeyer, an active clinical psychologist and expert in grief therapy:  When working with bereaved clients, clinicians will initially encourage them to engage in a therapeutic re-telling of their loss. When it comes time to help the client rewrite the story of their loss, the clinician must provide a safe space for them to open up and build trust so that they can communicate effectively with the therapist.

Getting to Know the Relationship’s Background 

The clinician will learn about the client’s relationship with the loved one they lost in addition to hearing about the loss event itself. “Death may end a life, but not necessarily a connection,” argues Neimeyer. Rather than losing their link with their loved one, the clinician will assist the client in learning how to rebuild it (Neimeyer, 2013). 

After you’ve mastered the fundamentals, you can go on to grief-specific strategies. Apart from the three key tactics mentioned above, there are numerous more specific interventions and modified procedures that can be employed to assist a client in grieving counseling.  Dr. Alan D. Wolfelt, for example, developed the Companioning Model of Bereavement Caregiving, in which the counselor or therapist acts as the client’s companion and assist. He is present for his client and observes their experience; nevertheless, “observe” in this case does not indicate simply “watching,” but rather “bearing witness to” and “looking out for” them.

“Restoration-oriented” activities and “loss-oriented” activities are beneficial, according to the Dual Process Model of Grief. During the grieving process, people frequently switch back and forth between them. 

Restoration-Oriented Activities 

Suffering a loss frequently entails the loss of one’s sense of normalcy. Restoration-oriented activities aim to restore a person’s sense of routine and order.  Individuals might develop new habits and senses of meaning through restoration-orientation exercises. For example, while in quarantine during the pandemic, a person may have developed a new pastime. Even watching movies or plunging into a project to distract oneself from the loss can be a good and essential restorative activity that helps a person cope with grief. 

Loss-Oriented Activities 

While restoration-oriented activities encourage “going forward” with life after loss, loss-oriented activities focus on the absence — the person or thing we miss. 

The following are some examples of common loss-related ways of grieving: 

  • With the help of others, you can process your loss. 
  • Reminiscing on the death of a loved one 
  • Considering the significance of the loss 
  • Making art as a form of expression in the face of loss 
  • Ritual creation or participation

Grief therapists work with people who are grieving the loss of a loved one or other personal losses. Their job is to help customers get through the phases of grieving and get back on their feet. They may work in public health facilities or private practice.

A grief therapist is a trained practitioner who assists people in coming to terms with their losses and coping with their grief. Grief therapy covers failure, death, loss, and any other type of social, spiritual, or psychological pain. A grieving therapist treats mental stress and tension with specialist treatments. 

Grief therapy may entail several sessions in which the therapist assists the client in expressing suppressed emotions. The sort of sorrow that a person is experiencing determines the type of counseling that they will get. Grief therapists employ a variety of strategies, including music therapy, the establishment of individualized rituals, and meditation.

Responsibilities of a Bereavement therapist include: 

  • Referrals, client interviews, and case histories are all things that I do. 
  • Keeping track of clinical observations and keeping client files up to date. 
  • Identifying the intervention requirements of clients and formulating treatment strategies. 
  • Individual and group therapy sessions are facilitated. 
  • Assisting clients in overcoming sadness caused by the death of loved ones and pets, as well as grief caused by divorce, breakups, and miscarriages. 
  • Clients’ progress is tracked, and treatment programs are adjusted as needed so that they can live happy lives.

Grief therapy treatment goals differ based on the grief paradigm and the therapeutic style used by the therapist. Some therapists are more concerned with personal narratives and the search for meaning, while others are more concerned with facilitating emotional expression. The goals of short-term grief and loss therapy plans often reflect these varied approaches, although long-term goals are typically consistent regardless of therapeutic technique.

J. William Worden, a Harvard psychology professor, proposed a model of sorrow that includes four tasks of mourning that incorporate these shared long-term goals: 

  • Accept the fact that you have lost. 
  • Work through the grief’s emotional suffering. 
  • Get used to living without the person who has passed away. 
  • Maintain a relationship with that person while establishing a new life.

Long-term goals for therapists using Elizabeth Kubler-five Ross’s stages of grief may include moving from denial to acceptance, whereas those using the dual-process model may include processing emotions and adjusting to secondary losses. These allude to the same recovery themes as Worden’s four duties. The purpose of grief counseling is to integrate that ache into a new vision of life, not to get over sadness or cease feeling the ache of loss.

The following are helpful towards a successful treatment for grief: 

1. A better understanding of loss and grief: 

  • Create a language for describing sadness and loss. 
  • Create a short-term strategy for coping with sadness and loss. 
  • Recognize and address grief and loss difficulties. Relationship between losses and dependency 
  • Determine how to deal with grief. 
  • Recognize and accept the fact that his sadness and loss are causing him troubles. 

2. Take ownership of the change:

  • Address the issues that are at the root of your grief and loss. 
  • The following are the goals and treatment focuses: 
  • Identify and address or let go of prior grief and loss concerns. 

3. Correct irrational thinking about grief and loss in the past:

Determine which portions of your mind are distorted.

4. Work through the unpleasant feelings that come with grief or loss:

  • Deal with his grieving guilt, survivor guilt, “should haves,” and “if only.” 
  • Solve your sadness problems 

5. Reducing extreme grief and loss is a priority:

  • Reduce the likelihood of substance misuse or other dangerous behaviors as a result of these disorders. 
  • The following are the goals and the treatments that will be used to achieve them. 
  • To deal with grief-related feelings, learn coping techniques.

One of life’s most unpleasant sensations is grief. Attempting to cope with sadness while abusing narcotics can make it worse. There is help available if you are dealing with a substance use disorder with unresolved grief.



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