Understanding grief therapy and how it can help
we have overcome 530,000 COVID-related deaths in the United States, and many people are grieving a loss related to this pandemic.
Whether you’re dealing with a pandemic-related loss or grieving a loss related to something else, finding a way to cope is critical.
Grief counseling can help people of all ages process and deal with their feelings after experiencing a loss.
In this article, we look at how grief can affect you, the stages of grief, and how grief counseling can help.
Grief therapy, or grief counseling as it is often called, is designed to help you process and cope with a loss, whether the loss is a friend, family member, pet, or other life circumstance .
Grief affects everyone differently. It also affects people at different times. During the grieving process, you may experience sadness, anger, confusion, or even relief. It is also common to feel regret, guilt, and show signs of depression.
A licensed therapist, psychologist, counselor, or psychiatrist can provide grief counseling. Seeing a mental health expert for grief and loss can help you process the feelings you’re experiencing and learn new ways to cope, all in a safe space.
Grief generally follows stages or periods that involve different feelings and experiences. To help make sense of this process, some experts use the stages of grief.
The Kübler-Ross Grief Stages Model, created by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, was originally written about people who die, not about people who are grieving, but later wrote about applying the principles to the grieving process after a loss.
There are five stages of grief according to the Kübler-Ross model. These include:
- Denial. After the death of a loved one, it is not uncommon to deny what happened. This can help temporarily shield you from the overwhelming emotions that come with grief.
- Anger. You may find that you are more angry than usual and direct your emotions towards other people, including the person who died. It is also possible to direct anger towards oneself.
- Negotiation. When you come out of denial and anger, you may find a period where you create a lot of “if only” and “what if” statements.
- Depression. This is often called the “quiet” stage of the grieving process. You may experience overwhelming feelings of sadness or confusion. It is common for your emotions to feel heavy during the depression stage and you may want to isolate yourself from others.
- Acceptance. When you get to a point where you accept what happened and understand what it means in your life, you have reached the stage of acceptance.
Over the years, some experts have expanded this model to include seven stages:
- shock and denial
- pain and guilt
- anger and negotiation
- the upturn
- reconstruction and elaboration
- acceptance and hope
It is important to note that there is a lack of empirical evidence to support the stages of grief as a model and, according to a 2017 review, some experts believe it may not be the best way to help people who are grieving.
After all, the Kübler-Ross model was written to explore the stages that dying people and their families go through, not for people to use after death.
A positive result of this model is that it emphasizes that grief has many dimensions and that it is perfectly normal to experience grief through many feelings and emotions.
When grief is prolonged and interferes with daily life, it can be a condition known as prolonged grief disorder. According to the American Psychological Association, prolonged grief is marked by the following symptoms:
- widespread longing for the deceased
- difficulty accepting death
- intense emotional pain
- emotional numbness
- feel like you’ve lost a part of yourself
- persistent depression
- withdrawal from typical social activities
In general, this type of grief usually involves the loss of a child or a partner. It can also be the result of sudden or violent death.
according to a 2017 meta-analysis, prolonged grief disorder can affect up to 10 percent of people who have lost a loved one.
Seeking therapy after a loss can help you work through anxiety and depression by processing your experience at your own pace.
Each mental health expert may use a different approach to help patients cope with grief and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) are two methods often used for grief.
Cognitive behavioral therapy
CBT is a common treatment approach for mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
During a CBT session, the therapist will help you identify negative thought patterns that may affect your behaviors.
You may be asked to explore thoughts related to grief and loss or other unhelpful thoughts to address how these thoughts affect your mood and behavior. They can help you lessen the impact with strategies like reframing, reinterpreting, and targeting behaviors.
Acceptance and commitment therapy.
ACT is another method that can help with grief and loss.
according to a 2016 research paper Sponsored by the American Association for Counseling, ACT can also be helpful with prolonged and complicated grief by encouraging clients to use mindfulness to come to terms with their experience.
ACT uses the following six basic processes for grief counseling:
- Acceptance of negative emotions. This step involves a willingness to experience and accept negative thoughts and emotions.
- Cognitive defusion. This process involves distancing yourself from your emotions so that they are easier to examine and understand.
- Contact with the present moment. By teaching mindfulness, ACT encourages people to focus on the present, as this is when change is possible and when you experience life.
- The self as context. This step involves observing yourself having your experiences or becoming an observer of the experiences in your life.
- Values. These are the principles you hold that help you direct your life.
- committed action. The culmination of ACT, this step involves taking action and overcoming obstacles by working on the previous steps.
Grief counseling for children incorporates many of the same elements as adult counseling, but the therapist works in ways that are appropriate for children.
According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, children, especially younger ones, react to death differently from adults.
In general, preschoolers see death as temporary and reversible, but 5- to 9-year-olds think a bit more like adults. Some common ways grief counselors treat children include through:
- Play therapy. Play therapy uses a child’s most instinctive behavior of interacting with the world around him by playing. A therapist may use dolls, puppets, stuffed animals, a dollhouse, or other toys to encourage the child to communicate thoughts, feelings, questions, and concerns that they might otherwise have difficulty expressing in talk therapy.
- Art therapy. Art therapy allows a child to express themselves creatively and without words. A therapist may ask a child to draw or paint a picture of the person they are grieving about and then use it as a way to explore their feelings.
- narrative therapy. Several children’s books deal directly with death but in a child-centered way. A therapist can use books to help a child understand death and dying and what may happen in the future.
It can be difficult to quantify or predict the perspectives of people dealing with grief, especially since each person handles it in their own way. It is also a challenge to predict whether any treatment may work better.
Grief does not follow a particular path. Healing is unique to each individual, and the perspective of people who are grieving is different for each person.
A therapist can play a key role in supporting the healing process by facilitating counseling sessions based on your situation.
Last medical check-up on March 22, 2021