Benefits Of Grief Counseling: How It Helps
People can experience grief due to a variety of difficult situations, from a breakup to a major life transition to the loss of a loved one. While this emotion is a shared human experience, it’s rare that two people will go through it in the same way or on the same timeline. Although there are some common stages most people will pass through, their order and duration can vary widely. That’s one reason grief counseling can be beneficial to those in this situation since a counselor can provide personalized support and guidance to an individual throughout this challenging time. Let’s take a closer look at the potential benefits of seeking out grief counseling.
The Five Stages Of Grief
Before examining the benefits of grief counseling, it can be helpful to understand the key phases of this emotional process. The Kübler-Ross model is the most well-known and widely accepted outline of the grieving process, and it includes five stages. While these are commonly experienced among the bereaved, it’s important to remember that they’re not necessarily linear. They can happen in different orders for different people, or some may skip a stage or come back to the same one more than once.
That said, developing an awareness of these stages can be a starting point for understanding the emotions some may experience with grief. No matter which stage you may find yourself in, a therapist can help you continue to move forward towards healing.
This stage of grief often comes first after receiving the upsetting news, and is associated with emotional numbness—your brain’s way of trying to defend you from overwhelm. You might not respond emotionally at all because you’re in shock and unable to process the information. You may also have doubts about whether the loss or other difficult event has actually even happened.
Events or experiences that induce grief can bring up a wide variety of emotions, from heartbreak or frustration to fear or guilt. Especially at first, though, it’s not uncommon for many of them to be experienced and expressed as anger.
Anger is often considered to be a secondary emotion, which means it’s typically an instinctive reaction that will eventually fade and give way to other, often more complex feelings under the surface. While feeling angry can be a natural part of the grieving process, it may eventually crystallize into other, more nuanced emotions over time.
This stage usually arrives once the strong, initial emotions have subsided somewhat and a person is seeing the situation more clearly. They may get lost in “what ifs” and “if onlys”, spending a lot of time imagining how things may have gone differently. Those who are religious or believe in a higher power in some form may aim their bargaining in this direction in the hope of some relief.
This phase may or may not be associated with symptoms of clinical depression, which is a serious mental illness that’s more than temporary feelings of sadness and typically requires treatment to resolve. Either way, this stage is generally characterized by intense sadness for the loss experienced. It can present in different ways, but it’s common for people to isolate themselves from others, have trouble feeling upbeat or enjoying things they once used to, and experience feelings of hopelessness and/or frequent crying. Some may also be vulnerable to dangerous coping mechanisms such as substance use issues. In this case, it’s highly recommended that the person seek professional help to keep themselves safe as they move through this difficult phase.
Acceptance is the final stage of the grieving process, though it may be punctuated with returns to other stages at first. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll no longer experience sadness about your loss, but it usually means you’ve found a healthy way to live with it. The beginning of the acceptance phase is characterized by what’s known as an ‘upward turn’, which is when the bleakness you may have experienced since the event happened begins to dissipate and you can start to think more hopefully about your own future.
Benefits Of Grief Counseling
If you’re experiencing symptoms of a mental health condition like depression or a substance use disorder as a result of your grief, it’s recommended that you seek out professional treatment. However, even if not, you may still benefit from meeting with a mental health professional—no matter which of the above stages of the grieving process you may find yourself in. A few potential benefits of pursuing grief counseling include:
A safe space to express your feelings. Therapists are trained to be nonjudgmental active listeners. That means their job is to create a safe space where you can feel comfortable honestly expressing your feelings without worrying about what they might think of you. They can be there to assure you that whatever you’re feeling is normal and okay.
Strategies for coping. When going through a difficult life experience like the grieving process, using healthy coping mechanisms to handle it is of paramount importance. A therapist can help you uncover strategies like these that are tailored to you personally.
Permission to focus on yourself. If your grief involves others, like your family, you may fall into a caretaker role as you help others through their own bereavement. Or, you might be busy with logistics and not have allowed yourself time to feel, or you may even feel guilty for the emotions you’re experiencing about the loss. In a one-on-one therapy appointment, you’ll have permission to focus on how you’re handling things—guilt- and judgment-free.
Healing at your own pace. Again, individual therapy is tailored to you specifically. That means you can approach the healing process from your own perspective and at your own pace, without feeling either rushed or held back by the way anyone else is experiencing the loss.
Options For Seeking Help
The grieving process is unique to the individual, which means that not every method for coping will work for every person. Some people find support groups to be helpful, since they allow them to speak with others who have been through the same type of challenging event and can therefore relate to the emotions they’re experiencing. A 2016 study that looked at the therapeutic benefits of online grief support communities found that “individuals report[ed] less psychological distress as a result of joining these groups”. Whether online or in-person, those who prefer to process their feelings this way may benefit from seeking out such a community.
Another common form of grief counseling involves meeting one on one with a therapist, particularly one who is trained in helping individuals handle grief. This type of treatment can also be done online or in person, since research suggests that virtual and in-person therapy may offer similar benefits in general. A 2021 study also suggests that online grief counseling in particular may “constitute an effective treatment approach”, potentially reducing symptoms of grief, depression, and post-traumatic stress in relation to a loss.
When experiencing grief, it can be difficult to get the motivation to leave the house and attend appointments, which is one reason that online grief counseling can be beneficial. It may also be a good option for those who have trouble locating a provider in their area, or who simply feel more comfortable receiving treatment from home. If you’re interested in trying out virtual therapy, you might consider a platform like BetterHelp. You can get matched with a licensed therapist who you can speak with via phone, video call, and/or online chat to address the challenges you may be facing. See below for client reviews of BetterHelp therapists who have helped people in similar situations.
“Amy helped me reach a new breakthrough today, I even cried which I'm not vulnerable with to many people nor do I like to cry in front of others. But, she helped me channel my grief and she is phenomenal. Never skips a beat.”
“Emily is a great listener. She has helped me finally come to terms with some deep trauma from my past life. Emily has helped me come to peace with a part of myself that I needed healing. I am so grateful for BetterHelp allowing me to be counseled through this uncertain time in the world.”
The grieving process can be incredibly difficult, but it’s important to remember that you don’t have to face it alone. If you’re interested in seeing how you may benefit from grief counseling, seeking out a qualified therapist to speak with—whether online or in person—may be a helpful next step.
Below are some commonly asked questions on this topic:
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Are There Benefits To Grief?
Post-traumatic growth can be a very real thing, and it can relate to grief or loss. That said, you don’t have to find a silver lining in the situation that caused your grief. We are all different and heal in our own way. In their own unique experience, some people find that there are benefits of grief. What is often the case is that many people find it helpful to move through the grieving process and feel the full spectrum of emotions that arise rather than suppressing the way they feel. It is important to get support when you need it, and you don’t have to move through grief alone. Finding a support group or attending therapy, whether individually or via group therapy, may be beneficial. You can find support groups, many of which are free, in person or online.
What Type Of Therapy Is Used For Grief?
Cognitive behavioral therapy, alongside other types of therapy, is research-backed and can be used for grief. Cognitive behavioral therapy (or CBT) can also be used to treat mental illness, including but not limited to anxiety disorders, depression, and substance use disorders*, as well as life stress and other concerns. There are many subtypes of CBT, including prolonged grief-specific CBT. Many individuals attend individual therapy for grief, though group therapy or attending family therapy with family can also be helpful in some instances.
*If you or someone you know lives with a substance use disorder or might be, please contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services (SAMHSA) helpline, also known as the treatment referral routing service, at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). You can also search for treatment and find additional resources on the SAMHSA website. Family, friends, or any other loved one of an individual who lives with a substance use disorder can use this online information service or contact the SAMHSA hotline for support.
Why Is It Important To Talk In Grief?
Emotional suppression can be detrimental to physical and mental health alike. When you talk about grief with others, it gives you the space to process distressing feelings, and it can help you cope. This can be one of the benefits of getting counseling when grieving. A grief counselor is objective, which means that you can say what’s on your mind during counseling sessions without fear of judgment. If you feel that you may benefit from counseling, don’t hesitate to seek treatment. You can work with a mental health professional short-term or long-term. Grief doesn’t just refer to a lost loved one or death; it can also refer to the end of a relationship, job loss, or something else. Mental health treatment or support can be helpful in any of these circumstances, or if you have something else you would like to discuss with a professional. During grief, it isn’t uncommon to feel guilty, angry, numb, or as though the experience isn’t real. Someone might feel guilty for pursuing a new relationship after partner loss, for continuing on with their life, or for another reason, or they may feel angry about the circumstances of their loss.