What Is Grief Counseling?

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What Is Grief Counseling?

Grief counseling, also known as bereavement therapy, is a form of therapy intended to help you cope with loss, like the death of a partner, family member, friend, colleague, or pet.

The death of a loved one can cause both emotional and physical pain that can sometimes impair your ability to function. Grief counseling can involve working with a counselor, therapist, psychologist, or support group to address your feelings.

In the short term, grief counseling can help you navigate the aftermath of a loss and make practical decisions, like funeral arrangements. In the long run, it can help you accept the loss of your loved one and adapt to life without them.

Types of Grief Counseling

Grief counseling can help people of all ages work through sorrow and other emotions that are part of a normal reaction to losing someone.

However, you may benefit from other forms of therapy if your grief is overwhelming and you are finding it difficult to cope with. Below are some other options that are available to you.

Grief Therapy

This form of therapy can help address behavioral and physical problems that you may face in the aftermath of a loss. It can also help you if you cannot separate yourself emotionally from the person who passed away.

Complicated Grief Therapy

Complicated grief is a condition where the grief takes hold of you and doesn’t let go. It can result in troubling thoughts, dysfunctional behaviors, and difficulty regulating emotions, making it harder for you to adapt to life without your loved one.

Complicated grief therapy (CGT) is a form of psychotherapy that can help you cope with this kind of grief.

Traumatic Grief Therapy

You may experience traumatic grief if you lost a loved one suddenly or if you witnessed their death.

Traumatic grief therapy can help you deal with the intensity of your grief, reduce the symptoms of trauma, and equip you with coping skills.

Techniques

Grief counseling involves talking about the person you lost, your relationship with them, how they died, how their death has impacted you, and how you’re coping with it.

These are some of the techniques that grief counselors or therapists may use:

  • Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT): ACT is a form of psychotherapy that encourages you to accept negative feelings and circumstances so you can begin to focus on healthier patterns that can help you reach your goals.
  • Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT): CBT is also a form of psychotherapy. It involves identifying and changing thought patterns that can negatively influence your behavior. 
  • Group Therapy: This form of therapy is carried out in a group setting. It can be comforting to share your feelings with other people who are going through the same thing you are and work toward recovery together. 
  • Art Therapy: Art therapy uses creative forms to express your emotions and promotes healing. It can be helpful to people of all ages, including children, who may struggle to communicate their feelings.
  • Play Therapy: Play therapy is often used to help gain insights into a child’s thoughts and feelings in order to help them process unresolved emotions and build constructive behavior patterns.

What Grief Counseling Can Help With

Grief counseling can help you identify and express your emotions. If you have lost someone who was an integral part of your life, grief counseling can also help you rebuild your routine and your identity.

Expressing Your Emotions

In the aftermath of a loss, you may experience a range of emotions that can include:

For instance, you may not just feel saddened by losing a loved one, you may also feel angry at them for leaving you. Maybe you regret something you said to them before they passed.

It can sometimes be difficult to admit these feelings to others, or even yourself. However, harboring unresolved issues can take a toll on your mental and physical health and make it difficult for you to move on.

Grief counseling can offer a safe space for you to express your emotions and process them so that you can start healing. You may find that you experience these emotions in different stages; grief counseling can help you navigate each stage and reach acceptance.

Rebuilding Your Routine

If you lived with the person you lost, or if they were a part of your daily routine in some way, it can be difficult to approach certain spaces or activities without them. 

Additionally, it can also be stressful to figure out how to take on certain tasks yourself. For example, if your partner managed your finances or certain household tasks, you may have to take on those roles yourself. 

A grief counselor can help you address your anxiety around these issues, work with you on a plan to tackle them at a pace you’re comfortable with, and gradually rebuild your routine.

Redefining Your Identity

When you lose someone very close to you, like a partner or family member, for instance, you may feel like you have lost a certain part of your own identity as well. 

Grief counseling can help you redefine your identity by encouraging you to focus on your other interests or relationships. It can also equip you with the skills and confidence you need to try new hobbies, reach out to other people, and build a support system for yourself. 

You may also find that you gain a new identity, like “widow” or “single parent” if you have lost a spouse, for instance. Grief counseling can help you explore what this means to you and how you can deal with adopting these new identities.

Benefits of Grief Counseling

Grief counseling can offer you several benefits, which can include:

  • Fewer physical and emotional symptoms
  • Development of coping skills that can help you adapt to life without your loved one
  • Improved self-awareness, as you start to understand what you are feeling and why
  • Acceptance of your loss, which involves integrating it into your reality and maintaining a healthy bond with the person you lost, as you move forward with your life

Effectiveness

Research has shown that grief counseling can be an effective way to manage your grief and help you heal. 

A 2017 study published in the journal Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy found that those who participated in grief counseling after losing a partner or close relative reported fewer symptoms in the long run. These findings suggest that grief counseling can have long-term benefits.

A 2015 study published in the journal Counseling & Psychotherapy Research found that people who participated in bereavement counseling felt that:

  • It was easier to talk to someone who wasn’t a friend or family member. 
  • It was helpful to have someone normalize and validate their experiences.
  • It was good to have unhelpful thinking patterns challenged, like those related to guilt or anger.

Things to Consider

Everyone doesn’t necessarily require grief counseling to get over the death of a loved one. However, it can be a useful tool to help you cope, especially if you are struggling with difficult emotions or having a hard time moving on with your life. 

On the other hand, if you are experiencing depression, traumatic grief, complicated grief, or other physical or behavioral problems related to your loss, you may benefit from other forms of therapy that may be more appropriate.

How to Get Started

You can decide whether you prefer individual sessions with a grief counselor or group sessions with a support group. Individual sessions offer more privacy and one-on-one interaction. In contrast, group sessions can be reassuring because you're not alone in your grief, and others’ progress can be a source of inspiration.

Hospices and hospitals often offer grief counseling services. If your loved one was in a hospice or hospital, the institution might offer you a grief counselor or support group that you can reach out to. 

You may also be able to find a grief counselor through your family, friends, or workplace. Alternatively, your primary care physician can refer you to a qualified professional.

Before you start, you should reach out to your insurance provider to determine whether grief counseling services and the specific practitioner you are going to are covered by your insurance plan.

Get Advice From The Verywell Mind Podcast

Hosted by Editor-in-Chief and therapist Amy Morin, LCSW, this episode of The Verywell Mind Podcast shares ways to stay mentally strong while you're grieving.

A Word From Verywell

Grieving can be a difficult and confusing time. Everyone experiences grief in their own way and on their own time.

Grief counseling can help you with the emotional and practical repercussions of losing a loved one so that you can accept their loss and live a meaningful life. 

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8 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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