The Benefits Of Grief Counseling

Medically reviewed by Melissa Guarnaccia, LCSW
Updated March 13, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
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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 common 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 techniques can be beneficial to those in this situation since a counselor can provide personalized support and guidance to an individual throughout this challenging time. If you're wondering, "can grief counseling help with what I'm experiencing now?" let’s take a closer look at the potential benefits of grief counseling for yourself or family members.

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Have you recently lost someone or something important to you?

Stages of grief

Before examining the benefits of grief counseling, understanding grief and the key phases of this emotional process can be helpful. 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 toward healing.

#1. Denial 

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 being overwhelmed. 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. 

#2. Anger 

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 these emotions 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.

#3. Bargaining

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.

#4. Depression

This phase may or may not be associated with the risk of developing 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 encouraged that the person seek professional help to keep themselves safe as they move through this difficult phase.

#5. Acceptance

Acceptance is the final stage of the grieving process, though it may be punctuated with returns to other stages at first. To say you “accept” a situation 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. You may then be able to accept the loss and think more hopefully about your own future.

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Benefits of counseling during the grieving process

While grief is a normal response to a significant loss, it can be challenging to address on your own. It can be particularly difficult to process when it is prolonged or severe. Persistent grief could signal the existence of a mental health condition called complicated grief (also referred to as prolonged grief disorder or persistent complex bereavement disorder).

Everyone processes grief—whether it’s related to a lost loved one, a relationship, or a job—in their own way. Therapy can help you navigate the grieving process in a manner that fits your unique situation. For instance, your objective may be to process the loss of a relationship so that, when you’re ready to start a new relationship, you can do so in a healthy way. A grief counselor can help you work through your feelings about the breakup, develop coping strategies, and move forward with your life.

If you’re experiencing symptoms of a mental health condition like depression or are using alcohol or other substances to self-medicate as a result of your grief, it’s recommended that you seek out professional treatment. However, even if not, you may still experience the benefits of grief counseling services—no matter which of the above stages of the grieving process you may find yourself in. A few potential benefits of pursuing loss 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, and accepting the loss of a loved one, it can be crucial to use healthy coping skills to manage it. A therapist can help you uncover strategies like these that are tailored to you personally.

  • Permission to focus on yourself. If your grief involves a death in the family, or if you are parents, 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; 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 grief therapy is tailored to you specifically, especially when dealing with the pain of loss. That means counselors can help you 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.

Finding the right grief counselor for you

The grieving process is unique to the individual, which means that not every counseling grief method for coping will work for every person. Therefore, different types of grief therapy are available. Group therapy can be a helpful form of care, allowing participants to process their feelings with people who are experiencing similar challenges. As with group therapy, some people find grief 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 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 in a support group may benefit from seeking out such a community.

Family therapy is another modality through which you may participate in grief counseling. Family members who have a connection with the deceased person may be able to better cope by addressing their feelings together. Grief counseling can help families learn to express themselves, communicate, and work through symptoms of mental health disorders that are associated with a significant loss.

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Have you recently lost someone or something important to you?

Another common form of grief counseling involves meeting one-on-one with a therapist or grief counselor, particularly one who is trained in helping individuals handle grief. There are several different modalities that are utilized to help bereaved people process their emotions. 

The most widely utilized form of grief therapy is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which focuses on helping participants reframe negative thoughts that may be underlying maladaptive behaviors or emotions. For example, through CBT a bereaved person may realize they were repeatedly thinking back to times when they had disagreements with their loved one, which was leading to feelings of guilt and anxiety. The individual may reframe this thought pattern by instead focusing on happy memories of their loved one, leading to healthier grief reactions. 

Research suggests CBT can have many benefits for those living with grief. In a study conducted at Cruse Bereavement Care Scotland, researchers concluded that grief counseling with a CBT component helped bereaved adults reduce symptoms of complicated grief. Researchers in another study found that participants experienced reductions in symptoms of complicated grief and comorbid depression following the completion of a CBT program.  

Grief therapy or bereavement counseling 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 may “constitute an effective treatment approach”, potentially reducing symptoms of grief, depression, and post-traumatic stress in relation to a loss. 

If you’d like to find additional resources, consider visiting the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s site. Through its treatment referral routing service, you may be able to find a grief counselor in your area. Additionally, its information service can help you learn more about topics related to grief. 

When experiencing grief, the pain of loss can make it difficult to get the motivation to leave the house and attend appointments. However, one of the benefits of grief counseling online is its convenience. Online appointments may also be a good option for those who have trouble locating a grief counselor in their area or who simply feel more comfortable receiving treatment from home. If you’re grappling with the emotions surrounding the person you lost and are interested in trying out virtual therapy, you might consider a platform like BetterHelp. This platform may help connect you to 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.

Counselor reviews

“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.”

Takeaway

The grieving process can be incredibly difficult for both children and adults, 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 in the recovery process.
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