Everything You Need to Know About Grief Therapy

Experiencing grief is a common human experience that everyone will encounter at some point in their lives. Despite its inevitability, it is not any easier to anticipate or cope with. The experience of grief can differ from person to person. There is no specific timeline or formula to follow.

Some may cope with it quickly, while others may experience prolonged grief that may affect their daily routine. However, there are various factors that can affect the way a person experiences grief. Coping with a sudden or violent death may differ from coping with an anticipated death. Also, losing a loved one due to a terminal condition can bring painful emotions.

Dealing with grief is a challenging experience, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to preparing for it. However, there are coping mechanisms to support you during this difficult time.

What is grief therapy?

Grief therapy is commonly known as grief counseling or bereavement counseling. It is a form of psychotherapy that is tailored to help individuals cope with:

  • the loss of a loved one or pet
  • job transitions
  • loss related to moving
  •  relationships change, such as divorce or breakups

Grief therapy can be beneficial for anyone, but it may be particularly helpful if you are experiencing grief that:

  • impacts your life or relationships
  • causes you guilt
  • has prompted symptoms of depression

It’s normal to feel overwhelmed by emotions after a major loss. However, if your grief becomes unmanageable or starts to impact your daily life, grief therapy can be beneficial.

What are the benefits of grief therapy?

Grief therapy, like any other form of therapy, can provide a safe space for you to process complex emotions, thoughts, and memories. Specifically, in the case of grief, it can empower you to speak your mind about things you may not feel comfortable sharing with loved ones who are also grieving.

During a grief therapy session, you are encouraged to express yourself freely regarding the person or relationship you have lost or the life circumstance that has changed. Moreover, you can learn coping mechanisms and strategies to help you manage your grief.

What are the different types of grief?

There are various types of grief that a person may go through, and grief therapy can be beneficial in dealing with them.

Normal grief

The most common type of grief people experience after losing a loved one is known as normal grief. This type of grief involves a variety of emotions, including sadness, anger, disbelief, and yearning. Individuals usually adjust to the loss with time and learn to move forward. 

Anticipatory grief

Anticipatory grief is experienced before an expected loss, usually in cases where someone is terminally ill or in a life-threatening situation. It allows individuals and their loved ones to begin the grieving procedure before the actual death.

Traumatic grief

Traumatic grief, also called complicated grief or prolonged grief disorder, is a type of grief reaction that happens after losing a loved one. Losing someone important can naturally result in grief, but traumatic grief can bring added complexities that make the grieving process more difficult and prolonged.

Disenfranchised grief

This type of grief is experienced when individuals suffer a loss that is not acknowledged or recognized by society. Examples include:

  • the loss of a pet
  • death of a spouse
  • grief related to a stigmatized death

Collective grief

A group or community experiences collective grief in response to a shared loss, such as a natural disaster, a mass shooting, or a pandemic. This type of grief can be especially intense due to the scale of the tragedy and its impact on many people.

What are the grief therapy technique?

When someone is grieving, any type of talk therapy can be helpful as it provides a secure and non-critical environment for them to express their feelings. Depending on the situation, a therapist may use specialized techniques to address the grief.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)

CBT is a helpful method for managing distress by addressing the thought patterns that may be causing it. By recognizing negative and distorted thinking habits, individuals can adapt their mindset and better manage overwhelming emotions.

Studies suggest that CBT could help alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety in adults who have lost loved ones. However, the amount of research on this topic is limited.

Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT)

Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) acknowledges that negative emotions can stem not only from our experiences but also from our resistance to accepting those experiences. ACT emphasizes the importance of accepting stress, discomfort, and negative emotions rather than trying to avoid them,

Complicated grief therapy (CGT)

Complicated grief therapy (CGT) is a scientifically-proven program consisting of 16 sessions to alleviate prolonged grief disorder symptoms. This treatment method utilizes various approaches, such as attachment theory and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

In a CGT program, the main focus will be on acknowledging the reality of your loss and how it has impacted your life. Additionally, you will work on setting goals for the future that do not involve the individual you have lost.

How long does grief last?

The grieving process is personal to each individual, and therefore the duration of grief varies from person to person. There is no set time limit for how long one should grieve. It is influenced by factors such as personality, coping strategies, the type of loss, and available support systems. Depending on these factors, some people may find comfort after a few weeks or months, while others may require more time.

Based on a study conducted in 2020, individuals who undergo common grief may notice improvement in their symptoms after approximately six months, with complete resolution typically occurring within 1 to 2 years. This timeframe can serve as a reference point for understanding the grief timeline.

When to get professional help?

If you're having difficulty coping with loss, seeking professional help for grief can be helpful. It's normal to experience trauma, and a therapist can offer guidance and support. If you find yourself turning to negative coping mechanisms or experiencing complicated grief, it's a sign that reaching out for professional help may be beneficial. It's important not to wait until the situation becomes severe. Processing grief with the support of a therapist can help you regain a sense of meaning. Remember, seeking help is a healthy and proactive way to navigate the complexities of grief.