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What is Grief and Loss Counseling?

Katelyn Brenner FNP

Reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP

Written by Geoffrey Whittaker

Published 09/25/2021

Losing someone is hard. Whether that person died unexpectedly, or is very much alive and has chosen to no longer be part of your life, the pain of grief can be overwhelming, no matter how strong you are. 

Grief responses are an important part of who we are: Humans make attachments, and when those attachments are broken, we feel the experience of grief.

We’re not here to tell you to “get over it,” and anyone who does might mean well, but they’re not treating grief like what it is: a condition in need of treatment.

So how do you treat grief? With counseling

Let’s start from the beginning, with what grief counseling entails.

Grief and loss counseling is a guided and professionally structured space for people to grieve losses of various kinds. 

While a death is obviously the most straightforward case in which grief counseling might be appropriate, grief and loss counseling can also be helpful for those dealing with other kinds of loss, including a lost job or a relationship that has ended. 

It can also be a place for people with reduced functionality from injuries or diseases to grieve and understand their pain.

Grief and loss counseling is where people experiencing these problems can go for support, understanding, respect and a degree of hope — all within the confines of their personal struggle. 

It can also be an appropriate place to work through negative feelings like guilt, anger, resentment and other barriers to recovery and acceptance.

The ultimate purpose of grief and loss counseling is to help people move through the recovery process more effectively, provide a foundation for personal growth and offer the right platform for increased psychological strength after experiencing trauma.

One of the most effective techniques is complicated grief therapy, or CGT. Complicated grief is a specific type of grief, different from other forms (like sudden loss grief or anticipatory grief), but it may be helpful in counseling other forms of grief, too.

The idea behind complicated grief therapy is rooted in an understanding that humans are biologically programmed to seek out attachment. 

When this attachment is interrupted, it can result in a range of feelings and symptoms, including deep sadness, loss of appetite, stomach aches and more.

CGT seeks to address these issues by reminding individuals that grief is natural, that it adapts and that the intention of grieving is not to forget the person or abandon their memory, but rather to work through the emotional experience toward a successful resolution of the grieving period. 

The therapist’s job is to progress the grief toward acceptance, eventually allowing the patient to live with their feelings of grief more comfortably.

This is done partly through a focus on rebuilding other relationships that may have been damaged during the grief journey, and setting goals of functionality that help the bereaved work in spite of those feelings of grief.

This may be accomplished through guided discussion, and it may include other practices like cognitive behavioral therapy. 

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) helps people reframe intrusive thoughts to ultimately regain control. 

CBT is effective for the treatment of anxiety, depression, eating disorders and grief and trauma issues.

It’s important to understand that grief isn’t a one-size-fits-all condition. We don’t naturally move from grief to acceptance over a particular number of days following a grief-inducing incident. 

And some grief — such as grief related to the loss of a person who served as an emotional foundation — may be more severe and take longer to overcome than grief related to someone who was less impactful, or a relationship that was less integrated into our daily lives.

Grief counseling services are designed to help those dealing with the grief process get through the pain of their bereavement — but how effective is it?

One study looked at the benefits of grief counseling for adults ages 18 and up. 

The study revealed that because of the numerous negative side effects related to grief (such as mortality, morbidity, depression, suicidality, PTSD) and the possibility of complicated grief (grief that extends outside of the expected period of bereavement), it’s important to monitor and address grief in those suffering from it.

While many people eventually move beyond their acute grief symptoms (the initial, often crushing sadness) to integrated grief (a tolerable, less immediate sadness), the term complicated grief is used to describe people who do not move to the next stage normally.

This is where grief counseling services can be beneficial: in addressing the ongoing acute symptoms to help a person contextualize their feelings and ultimately accept their loss and return to normal function.

The study mentioned above found that grief counseling had a significant impact for those suffering from complicated grief.

Grief, loss, bereavement — you’re suffering from any of these issues, you may feel exhausted, tired, directionless or simply unmotivated. 

It’s hard to lose someone, whether they’ve died or simply left your life. It may take time to cope, comprehend the loss and get your feet under you again so that you can regain a sense of purpose. 

If you’re struggling, treat yourself with compassion. Understand that grief is natural, and that like other traumas of the physical world, grief may require time for recovery. 

That said, if your recovery seems to be devoid of progress, or if you simply feel alone and in need of support, therapy can be an effective option. 

Make an appointment for yourself to talk to grief counselors or mental health professionals who can help you through the grieving process.

Consider online counseling for grief counseling, which may be the right blend of convenient and accessible for your needs. 

Don’t continue to sit in these feelings alone. Take care of yourself the way you deserve.

4 Sources

  1. Borins M. (1995). Grief counseling. Canadian family physician Medecin de famille canadien, 41, 1207–1211.
  2. Newsom, C., Schut, H., Stroebe, M. S., Wilson, S., Birrell, J., Moerbeek, M., & Eisma, M. C. (2017). Effectiveness of bereavement counselling through a community-based organization: A naturalistic, controlled trial. Clinical psychology & psychotherapy, 24(6), O1512–O1523.
  3. Bandelow, B., Michaelis, S., & Wedekind, D. (2017). Treatment of anxiety disorders. Dialogues in clinical neuroscience, 19(2), 93–107.
  4. Wetherell J. L. (2012). Complicated grief therapy as a new treatment approach. Dialogues in clinical neuroscience, 14(2), 159–166.
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