Therapy FAQ

Therapy and Counseling for Grief

Grief, a natural response to loss, unfolds through stages like denial, anger, and acceptance. Therapy, including CBT and ACT, aids in processing grief, especially for complicated cases. Group therapy and religious/spiritual support offer additional avenues for healing.

Ashley Laderer By Ashley Laderer

Updated on May 23, 2024

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Death is an inevitable part of life, and therefore, so is grief. Grief is a strong, sometimes all-consuming emotional response to loss. This phenomenon, while unpleasant, is completely natural. Mourning a loss and the accompanying stages of grief may be short-lived, lasting for a few months, or more long-term, lingering for years.

Grief can have a profound effect on your mental health, and it may even affect you physically, too. Mentally, you might experience a wide range of emotions: sadness, anger, guilt, or even numbness. Physically, you may have GI issues, chest tightness, headaches, or muscle weakness.

Some people may be able to carry on with their day-to-day life while processing grief, while others are more paralyzed by it. Every individual is different, and nobody can predict exactly how they will feel when a loss occurs. Additionally, different losses may result in different intensities of grief.

While we typically associate grief with death, grief can also be experienced after other types of major life changes. For example, if you’re going through a major breakup or divorce, you may grieve the loss of the relationship. Or, if you’ve recently developed a major health issue or a disability, you may grieve the loss of your old health or abilities.

Here’s what you need to know about the grieving process as well as different approaches for therapy and counseling for grief.

The Five Stages of Grief

While everyone experiences grief and processes loss differently, there are five general stages of grief that were outlined by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, a psychiatrist who was a pioneer in the psychology surrounding death and grief.

The five stages include:

1. Denial

When you first hear the news of a loved one’s passing, you might find yourself in a state of denial, unwilling to accept the difficult reality of the situation. You may not feel like the loss is something that has really happened.

For example, it might feel like you’ve been given false information, or that your loved one will be back at home waiting for you. Alternatively, you might carry on with business as usual, keeping yourself busy as if everything is okay.

2. Anger

After the denial has dissipated and reality has hit you, it’s natural to feel angry. This anger can present itself in many ways, whether you feel mad at yourself, thinking you could have prevented your loved one’s death, or mad at anybody who was involved in the death.

You may also find yourself angry in general and feeling irritable in all sorts of situations.

3. Bargaining

As anger fades, ruminating may begin as you bargain with yourself. You may find yourself thinking that if you acted differently in the past, you could have prevented the outcome you’re facing now. Phrases beginning with “I should’ve” or “if only” are common. This typically brings on or worsens guilt, as you make yourself believe that you could have saved your loved one’s life if your actions leading up to the loss were different.

4. Depression

Of course, sadness is associated with grief, but emotions can intensify and depression can ensue, which encompasses much more than just sadness. Some signs of grief-related depression are:

It’s important to address these feelings of depression as they come up, facing them head-on rather than brushing them under the rug. This helps prevent the grief-related depression from turning into longer lasting clinical depression, or major depressive disorder.

5. Acceptance

Finally, you will reach a time where you are no longer in denial about the loss. Of course, losing someone you love isn’t an outcome you wanted, but eventually, a point will come when you have come to terms with it as you reach acceptance. You may feel less angry and more at peace.

This doesn’t mean there won’t be lingering sadness. Experiencing emotions associated with the loss is normal, even long after the death occurred. However, in the acceptance stage, you won’t be paralyzed by these feelings of sadness anymore. You may even be able to finally look back on happy memories with your loved one and smile.

Acceptance involves accepting the current reality, knowing you could not have changed the outcome, being more present, and utilizing healthy coping skills.

Different approaches for support

Grief can be extremely heavy and difficult to deal with alone. Talking to loved ones can bring comfort during tough times. Additionally, you may find it beneficial to talk with a qualified therapist who has professional training and experience helping folks deal with grief. Therapy is an excellent option for helping you cope with any and all of the five stages of grief, as well as moving on as you live with this new normal. Some examples of mental health professionals who can provide therapy for grief include:

As you look for a mental health professional to provide you with therapy, be sure to look for ones who specialize in grief. There are many professionals who devote their practice to grief counseling, so you can be sure that there is someone out there who will identify your needs and know exactly how to help you.

Aside from general talk therapy and learning healthy ways to cope, two specific branches of therapy that can be particularly helpful for handling grief are:

Therapy or counseling for grief can be beneficial for anyone, but it may be especially necessary if you’re dealing with what’s known as complicated grief, or prolonged grief disorder.  This is when intense grief lasts for over a year and interferes with your functioning and wellbeing. About 10% of adults who have experienced a loss develop prolonged grief disorder. Complicated grief therapy (CGT) is a specific type of therapy that focuses on the unique struggles that these individuals face.

Group therapy or support groups for grieving people are also an option. This will give you an opportunity to connect with others, which can help you feel less alone during dark trying times.

If you are religious or spiritual, you may choose to seek support from a mental health professional who shares your beliefs so you can incorporate that aspect into your healing. Alternatively, you may look for guidance from your local places of worship, depending on your religion. Some examples of people who may be able to help you on your journey are:

Chatting with mental health professional is a great way to help process a loss and make your way through the stages of grief in the most healthy way possible. Dealing with grief isn’t easy, but therapy can certainly make it feel a bit more manageable.

Whether the first step is talking to a loved one about the idea of starting therapy or searching through our community of in-network, qualified therapists and psychiatrists, help is here. Search here or call our team at 1 (786)244-7690 to book an in-person or virtual session.

Frequently Asked Questions

About the author
Ashley Laderer Ashley Laderer

Ashley Laderer has been a mental health advocate since 2016, when she first publicly wrote about her own battle with anxiety and depression. After hearing how others were impacted by her story, she decided to continue writing about anything and everything mental health. Since then, she’s been published in Teen Vogue, SELF, Refinery29, NYLON, VICE, Healthline, Insider, and more.

This article is not meant to be a replacement for medical advice. We recommend speaking with a therapist for personalized information about your mental health. If you don’t currently have a therapist, we can connect you with one who can offer support and address any questions or concerns. If you or your child is experiencing a medical emergency, is considering harming themselves or others, or is otherwise in imminent danger, you should dial 9-1-1 and/or go to the nearest emergency room.

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