Understanding Grief Counseling

Author and Medical Reviewer
Dr. Jose Toledo

close up photo of crying woman dark tears

Losing someone or something we love is a part of life. It is tragic – but we need to acknowledge that it will happen one day.

So it is useful to understand the nature of loss and grieving. Then, when it happens we can be in a much stronger place to deal with it.

This is the knowledge that counselors who specialize in grief counseling know. It is the sort of information they can offer to someone seeking their help – so that person can get through their trauma.

Grief counseling will help a person put strategies in place to cope with and take care of their grief. It can help someone to rebuild themselves.

Key symptoms of grief

Depending on the nature of the loss, the symptoms of grief can include:

•    Shock

•    Denial

•    Anger

•    Isolation

•    Anxiety

•    Guilt

•    Loss of appetite

•    Feeling empty

•    Numbness

•    Yearning

•    An intense sadness

•    Regret and remorse

•    Feelings of hopelessness

•    Loss of sense of self

•    Constantly thinking about the loss

•    Insomnia

There can be physical problems too. These include palpitations, chest pains that feel like a heart attack, breathlessness, and fatigue.

Different types of grief

Recovering from grief

Once again, depending on the nature of the loss there are various types of grief. These are:

Anticipatory grief

This is the sense of loss that someone has before the actual loss. This could be because their loved one develops a permanent disability or is diagnosed with a chronic or terminal illness.

Normal grief

This is a period of numbness and sorrow as well as sometimes anger and guilt. Gradually the intensity of these feelings eases, and it’s possible to find acceptance and move on in life.

Traumatic grief

This arises in people who lose someone in a traumatic event such as an accident or through suicide. It can also occur if someone witnesses a person getting seriously injured or killed. Traumatic grief is a strong grief that can develop hours, weeks or even months after a traumatic event.

Complicated grief

Sometimes known as “prolonged grief disorder”, this is when there are long-lasting symptoms of grief that are very intense. It is grief that over the months following a loss just doesn’t seem to lessen. It can make daily life extremely difficult or even seemingly impossible. It can lead to addiction, risk-taking behavior, anxiety, depression, and even thoughts of suicide.

Disenfranchised grief

This is grief that’s kept secret and inside, at least for much of the time. This could be for someone grieving when their partner in an affair dies or when a woman has an abortion but doesn’t tell anybody.

What are the five stages of grief?

man holding out a dove letting go of grief

Psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross sought to help people suffering from loss. So she developed what is known as the “five stages of grief”.

She introduced these in her 1969 book On Death And Dying: What the Dying Have to Teach Doctors, Nurses, Clergy and Their Own Families.

The five stages of grief are:

•             Denial

•             Anger

•             Bargaining

•             Depression

•             Acceptance

Due to the nature of grief, somebody can go from one stage to another and then back again. Or they might experience three stages at once, each stage with a different intensity.

There is also no absolute time to go through the five stages either. For some people, it could be weeks, but for others, it will be months or years.

Acceptance needs to be finally reached at some point for someone to start moving on with life again. That is not to say that they like how the world is now after their loss – but it means they have accepted this is how the world is from now on.

Although developed to help people cope with a bereavement, the “five stages of grief” are useful to help with many things in life that are losses. This includes a relationship break-up, a child leaving home, losing a physical capability someone had, and a business or job loss.

What methods are used in grief counseling?

Group therapy support

Grief counseling usually has some key aims for the person suffering grief. These are:

To work through their pain.

To adjust to life as it is after their loss.

To enable some sort of connection with their lost loved one.

To reach acceptance around the loss – and move back into and forward in their life.

A grief counselor might talk about some aspects of grief to give someone a greater understanding of it. It can ease the burden and sadness to know that what the person is going through is normal.

They can invite the person they’re helping to open up about how they are feeling. They might steer them to talk about their loss, about the lost loved one, and what that person meant to them.

There might be some talking therapy about how to get ready for and cope with significant days, such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, an anniversary, or a birthday. They can encourage the grieving person to step back into life: to start working again, pick up their hobbies and socialize once more.

Grief can be extremely overwhelming. For many people, seeking professional help straightaway has proven to be an immensely beneficial thing to do to ease their pain and help them through it.

A 2015 study published in the peer-reviewed journal Counseling & Psychotherapy Research found that grief counseling helped people because of a few specific reasons. These included that the grieving person could speak with someone outside their family and social network.

As well, it was useful speaking with someone who understood the importance of listening. Also, to hear that what they were going through was normal. 

Then, they found it beneficial to have any unhelpful thinking and behavior challenged. In addition, they said it was useful that they could look at and deal with any feelings of anger and guilt.

Our friendly team of experts has helped people with all emotional issues. Reach out to us today to hear how we can help you or someone you love.

David Hurst - Tikvah Lake Recovery

About David Hurst

David Hurst has four books published on mental health recovery, including 12 Steps To 1 Hero, The Anxiety Conversation and Words To Change Your Life. He has written for national newspapers and magazines around the world for 30 years including The Guardian, Psychologies, GQ, Esquire, Marie Claire and The Times. He has been in successful continual recovery since January 2002.

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