Everyone copes with grief differently. Some may try to stay strong and push others away; others will reach out to family members and friends for support or distractions. However you cope, you may also find grief counseling helpful. Grieving is never something to go through alone, especially if the loss comes suddenly. Whether the loss of a loved one is a beloved family member, friend, or pet, a grief counselor may be the right choice for you.
What is Grief Counseling
Grief counseling is a form of therapy where patients and therapists discuss the patients’ mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual reactions to the loss of a loved one. There are traditionally five stages to grief first outlined by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in 1969: 1) denial, 2) anger, 3) bargaining, 4) depression, and 5) acceptance. Depending on the individual, these stages may proceed quickly or last for long periods. People trapped in the first few stages of grief may have difficulty escaping without getting help, and this is where grief counseling comes in.
How Can Grief Counseling Help?
Counseling is offered for a wide variety of mental illnesses and disorders and typically proceeds through long conversations and discussions about life events. These events may be recent or may have occurred years ago but continue to affect the way people interact with others or live their daily lives.
Grief counseling focuses on helping those with a recent loss and overcoming the negative feelings associated with that loss. Grief counseling patients may discuss the loss itself, the person or pet they lost, or the memories tied to that person or pet. Whatever the loss, grief counseling can help with any of the types of grief, which are:
- Complicated grief
- Traumatic grief
- Broken Heart syndrome
Complicated grief is defined as intense feelings of grief, which may last for a few days or over a year. The intensity of complicated grief varies from person to person, but the emotional response will often prevent the individual from getting through the day. Some of the more intense reactions include:
- Thinking about the deceased person or pet constantly
- Strong feelings of hopelessness, sadness, or emptiness
- Avoiding anything that reminds you of the loved one, even memories
- Isolation or detachment from one’s own identity or society
- Strong desire to be with the loved one again
- Lack of interest in hobbies or social engagements
- Lack of desire to eat or sleep
If a loved one passes away suddenly or horrifically, an individual may experience traumatic grief. Traumatic grief may lead to difficulty sleeping and intense periods of depression, shock, confusion, disbelief, and powerlessness. These feelings may also appear suddenly in the patient’s life after the traumatic event, resulting in fearfulness that makes ordinary life difficult.
Broken Heart Syndrome
Broken heart syndrome occurs when an individual experiences intense shock after the loss of a loved one. This shock causes the body to produce various stress hormones, which cause the heart to irregularly pump blood throughout the body. This irregularity may then cause chest pains, resulting in a feeling similar to a heart attack.
What Do You Do in Grief Counseling?
The objectives of grief counseling are similar regardless of the form of grief:
Accepting the loss of the loved one
Working through the stages of grief
Getting back to normal life without the loved one around
Reconnect or maintain a connection made during or after the loss of a loved one
Grief counselors help people at various stages of grief, some of whom may require years of counseling while others may need only months. During counseling sessions, the patient may be encouraged to discuss the loved one’s death and the patient’s emotions surrounding that death. The counselor may also help the patient develop plans for how to handle important events throughout the year, such as family holidays or birthdays.
The loss of a loved one may also cause a person to dissociate from him- or herself, resulting in a loss of identity as well as the loved one. For patients struggling with identity loss, grief counselors may help the patient create or build upon relationships and develop an identity separate from the loved one.
Grief Counseling for Hospice Patients
Hospice patients may experience increased feelings of grief after losing a loved one unexpectedly or losing another patient in the center. Hospice patients may feel uneasy or scared at the thought of death or increased depression at losing a beloved friend or family member. Many hospice centers offer grief counseling services to help hospice patients cope with loss and life moving forward.
Grief Counseling for Hospice Patients’ Loved Ones
Despite the individual’s home in a hospice center, losing a loved one can be shocking and heartbreaking for many people. Grief counseling may help individuals understand and cope with the loss of a loved one in hospice care, either in individual or group sessions.
One of the common symptoms of grief is loneliness, and group counseling may offer a solution to this feeling. During group counseling, a grief counselor and several individuals speak about grief and the loved ones they lost. Group sessions offer collaborative environments that allow people to connect and encourage each other through difficult times.
Grief Counseling for Children
Children often have difficulty understanding or accepting the loss of a loved one, resulting in periods of confusion, anger, and depression. If a child is unsure how to grieve, he or she may observe how family members act and repeat these actions. Grief counselors may specialize in helping children understand and process grief in a healthy way, which may be conducted in private sessions, family sessions, or a combination of the two.
Grief is a normal feeling, something many people go through every day. Even with this in mind, many of us feel alone as we go through the grieving process. If you or someone you know is struggling with grief over the loss of a loved one, reach out to us here. No one should go through this process alone, and neither do you.