Common Techniques Used In Grief Counseling

Medically reviewed by Andrea Brant, LMHC
Updated June 6, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include suicide, substance use, or abuse which could be triggering to the reader.
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Grief after a death in the family or after losing someone you love can cause powerful, complex emotions and symptoms. Humans are social creatures, and our bonds with others can be significant. After going through a significant loss, it can be beneficial to avoid withdrawing socially and to stay connected with others. However, talking to friends and family members might be challenging. In these cases, talking to a grief counselor may be beneficial.

Grief can feel overwhelming

The functions of grief counseling

Some people might imagine uncomfortable clinical environments when thinking of grief counseling. However, counselors trained in grief counseling are compassionate professionals educated in the complex nature of the stages of grief individuals might go through. They understand how complicated grief can be, and work to provide comforting, quiet environments where those experiencing grief can openly express their emotions, learn healthy and proactive coping strategies, and find support. 

There are many benefits that grief counseling can offer for those experiencing the loss of a loved one or any form of grief, such as complicated grief. For example, you might learn more about the stages of grief, partake in an art project, or meet others going through similar experiences. Grief can be associated with mental health conditions like major depressive disorder and prolonged grief disorder (in which grief is experienced for a prolonged period beyond what is considered usual), and can raise the risk of self-destructive behaviors, like substance abuse. Counseling can also offer treatments for those symptoms, providing a chance to adjust to your new reality and focus on finding healing while strengthening your existing relationships.

Although your own time in grief counseling may have far-reaching effects, there are certain things grief counseling cannot do. For example: 

  • It won't make you forget the deceased.
  • It won't allow you to bypass the pain of loss.
  • It won't change the core of who you are.

Grief counseling is a type of therapy designed to help people who have experienced a loss find meaning, support, and guidance. Grief counseling techniques can take different forms depending on the circumstances surrounding the loss, such as a traumatic event, or having a loved one in hospice care. The defining factor is that grief therapists teach techniques for healthy grieving, emotional expression, and validation. Below are a few ways grief counseling might benefit you.

Accepting the loss

Grief might not always accompany a shock. Some individuals might feel numb after a loss or go on as if nothing has happened. Even if you're overwhelmed by emotion, you may feel disconnected from the feelings or struggle to accept what has occurred. When you see a therapist, you may work together on accepting that the loss occurred so you can start to treat it. 

Identifying and addressing traumatic loss

Before you and your behavioral health provider decide what treatment approach to take, your counselor may also ask you about the circumstances of your loss. If the loss was traumatic, you might have unique struggles associated with it. Your counselor can help you address any traumatic or chronic grief and may recommend additional trauma counseling after grief counseling. 

Talking about your loved one

Expressing your thoughts and feelings about your relationship with your loved one may offer emotional relief in grief counseling. Your therapist can ask you questions about the deceased person, your memories with them, and what you will most remember about them. If you don't want to talk about them, you might decide to express your feelings for them through art, journaling, or poetry. Studies show that art therapy can be especially beneficial for those experiencing a loss. 

Allowing yourself to feel grief

Some people might try to shut off emotions or struggle to connect with their feelings after a loss. Others might feel intense, difficult emotions that they don't know how to address or label. One of the goals of counseling and grief sessions is to express the emotions of grief in a way that works for you. 

Studies show that suppressing emotions can cause physical and emotional harm, so your counselor may help you let them out healthily. Some cities have grief centers where support groups are held. These centers might also include activities like art therapy or music. Art and music can be a way to express emotion without verbalizing it or crying if you struggle with those areas of expression.  

Overcoming guilt

Many people feel guilty for their actions, or lack thereof, before a loved one's passing. Regardless of fault, a therapist can help you release these feelings and accept what cannot be changed. Blaming yourself may be a way to try to rationalize or understand what occurred. However, a loss, whether it be of human life or life changes, can be hard to understand, and you're not alone in these feelings. Nobody is perfect, and there are ways to be kind to yourself in your grieving process. 

Coping with life changes

Counseling can help you understand how your life has changed since your loss and how to cope with even intense grief. People may experience significant life transitions outside of their loss, which can be scary or traumatic. Your therapist may also be able to connect you with local resources for housing, food, or jobs.


Building a support system

If the person you lost was your primary support system, you might struggle to understand who to turn to. If your life partner or child has passed away, you might have to take on the duties they used to care for. You may have to file insurance papers, manage a budget, or do cooking and housekeeping chores you've never done before. With a counselor's support, you can learn new skills, meet others who are grieving, and find local resources. 

Grief counseling methods and techniques

Grief counselors use various counseling techniques during grief and loss counseling to help you experience, understand, and move through your grief. Below are several counseling techniques you can consider.

Grief counseling in a quiet environment

Talking about the loss in a busy or loud environment may feel stressful. Many counseling and grief counseling sessions happen in a quiet, personal environment where you can comfortably participate in your treatment. Often, grief therapists use counseling techniques in these environments to allow the client to discuss the circumstances around their grief. 

Describing the loss

Some grieving adults might feel that describing the moment they lost their loved one can help them heal or process the moment. Using words like "I heard" or "I saw" can allow you to re-experience the loss with guidance in the presence of a mental health professional. 

As you do, your counselor can offer validation, empathy, and guidance. They might also ask questions to understand how you felt in the moment. This process can also help them identify trauma, which might be discussed in counseling. If you're not ready to talk about the loss of a loved one in-depth, you do not have to. 

Funeral arrangement planning

Funeral arrangements can be challenging after losing a loved one. Organizing, setting up a financial plan, and inviting guests and families can be challenging. It may even worsen symptoms of grief. Counselors can help you develop a plan for your loved one's funeral or memorial service and help you discuss your options for caring for the body. 

As you talk about making funeral arrangements, you can express any positive or negative feelings that arise. Feeling angry, intense sadness, worry, or numbness can be normal. Some people might feel happy about the funeral and see it as a celebration of their loved one's life. No emotion is "wrong" in this situation, and your therapist can help you understand that. 

Carefully worded sessions

You might notice that your counselor carefully uses compassionate wording during your sessions. For example, they may talk about your loved one in the past tense and avoid putting judgment or labels on your experiences. If there are words that are hard for you to hear, they might help you break them down to understand their meanings in the context of loss. They can help you to work through negative thought patterns and reframe them.

Depression screening

When you see your provider, they might offer a quick depression screening or ask questions about your mental well-being to understand if you might be experiencing mental illness or concerns, which can be common with grief. If you're having trouble sleeping, eating, or socializing, especially for prolonged periods, they might suggest resources or coping mechanisms to help you. Some clients might be referred to a psychiatrist for medication for sleep, anxiety, or depression during their grieving process. 

Talking about past losses

Counselors might prompt you to discuss your past losses or grief experiences if you've had them. Understanding how you got through a situation in the past might offer insight into how you could benefit from similar coping skills in your current loss. 

Boosting self-esteem

Therapists might use self-esteem exercises to help grieving clients feel self-confident after loss. Your self-esteem during a grieving period might be tied to your beliefs about what your loved one thought of you. Your grief counselor can guide you through self-esteem exercises like mindfulness, which has been proven to increase self-compassion. They may also guide you through exploring positive experiences related to what you’re going through.

Giving permission to grieve

It’s common for people to see grief as a sign of weakness, selfishness, or incompetence. However, grieving is healthy. Counselors can tell you it's okay to grieve and allow you a space to do so without anyone else seeing it. Counseling sessions can be a safe space for you to feel whatever emotions you’re feeling for a little while, free from judgment and expectations.

Realistic goal-setting practices 

Goal setting is a strategy used in many types of counseling. Because grief can involve significant life changes, setting goals for your new life without the person you lost can be beneficial. However, be cautious, and understand that if you aren't acting at the same capacity as you were before the loss, this is normal. Grief can make it challenging to work through daily life, so set small goals and re-address them as needed throughout your sessions.

Writing letters 

Your therapist might suggest writing letters to the person you lost while in session. You might be prompted to write about how you felt about the loss, what you miss about the person, or any changes that have occurred in your life that you want them to know about. Research has found that expressive writing can improve mental health by allowing individuals to express emotions through words. Letter writing might be beneficial if you're struggling to talk about how you feel. 


Journaling can be like writing a letter to yourself. Through journaling during counseling, you can write about how you feel and discuss it with your therapist afterward so they know how they might be able to support you. You can also keep a journal outside of sessions and reference its content while speaking with your therapist.

Reading assignments

Reading about grief might help you understand how it occurs and how others grieve. Many books about grief are available, written for both children and adults. You can also consider reading grief studies to understand the psychological factors behind emotions after a loss.  

Creating a memorial project 

Your therapist might suggest memorial projects like a memory book or photo album. Some people might also complete a scrapbook full of photos of themselves and their loved ones, with stickers and decorations to remind them of their favorite memories. As they create the book, they can talk to their therapist about each page and process any challenging emotions that arise. 

Art therapy

Expressive art therapy can allow clients to create pictures, sculptures, paintings, or other types of art to process grief and other emotions. A counselor with a certification in art therapy can guide clients in creating artistic renditions of their grief. When a piece is finished, clients can give it to their therapist, keep it, sell it, or store it away to look at in the future. 

Narrative therapy 

Some clients might struggle with grief if they had unfinished responsibilities, conflict, or conversations with the person they loved before they died. Depending on the client's relationship with the deceased, narrative counseling can allow them to re-address these situations and roleplay, write out, or create an alternate ending to solve unfinished business. For example, if one client was arguing with their parent about taking out the trash, they might roleplay the conversation with their therapist. However, instead of ending on an unfinished note, they can structure the conversation to have an ideal ending. 

The empty chair technique

The empty chair technique can be used in various types of counseling. The therapist can set up an empty chair across from the client. The client can then imagine their loved one sitting in the chair, stating everything they want to say to them. This technique might allow for a release of painful emotions. 

Creating remembrance rituals

Your therapist might recommend that you set a specific time or day of the week to do a remembrance ritual, journal, or create a project for your loved one. You might also create rituals once a year, such as on the anniversary of the loss. A few ways you can remember your loved one include: 

  • Creating art 
  • Writing a letter
  • Looking at pictures 
  • Getting a photo shoot in a location meaningful to that individual 
  • Spending time at a place you used to frequent with the person 
  • Going on a trip to a place they wanted to visit 
  • Spreading their ashes 
  • Singing songs that remind you of them 
  • Listening to music 
  • Creating a mixtape or playlist for them 
  • Checking in with the individual's family or friends
  • Reading past letters from them 
  • Going to their favorite restaurant 

Is grief counseling right for you?

Grief counseling can take many forms, including one-on-one counseling, group counseling, or family counseling, and it provides many benefits. It can help you navigate challenging emotions, thoughts and thought patterns, and beliefs that might occur after grieving and offer a place to receive validation, support, and kindness. In addition, your counselor may provide you with resources, goal-setting materials, and guidance as you move forward into a life without your loved one. 

Grief counseling can help anyone who is going through loss. You do not need a mental health condition to contact a counselor, and you do not have to talk about the loss if you're uncomfortable doing so. You can also visit a therapist if you're experiencing symptoms of depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or another mental health condition. 

If your pain is overwhelmingly intense, lasts for over a year, or affects how you function daily, grief counseling may benefit you. You can talk to a therapist about any thoughts or concerns you have. If you're looking for additional resources, or you want more comprehensive social support through your loss, you might also consider a grief support group or grief center.

Grief can feel overwhelming

Grief counseling options 

Counseling is a healthy way to deal with emotions related to grief and loss. Talking to mental health professionals who understand bereavement and grief can help you put your situation into perspective while learning how to cope with distressing emotions or sensations. However, many people might not consider grief counseling due to financial burdens after a loss or difficulty getting out of bed. In these cases, you might benefit from online grief counseling. 

Studies have shown that internet-based grief counseling effectively treats symptoms of grief and bereavement. In addition, participants of the study reported high levels of satisfaction, on par with in-person grief counseling. With an online platform like BetterHelp, you can get matched with a therapist offering complicated grief therapy services and choose between phone, video, or live chat sessions. You can also attend counseling from home, and online counseling can be much more affordable than traditional options. Various types of counseling can be useful for grief, including acceptance and commitment counseling, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and group sessions.

The aftermath of a loss can be a challenging time for most people. Consider counseling when you feel you're at the end of your rope and there's nowhere to turn. You're not alone, and thousands of therapists are available to support you through this challenging time. 

Grief counseling reviews

“Collen has been my rock in dealing with my parents deaths. I lost both parents within seven months of each other and was literally on the brink when I found Colleen. She has taught me that grief has no timeline or rhyme or reason, and I can talk to her after all my friends and family have moved on and don’t really get it. She offers very solid advice on coping skills and just a great sounding board when I just want to talk about my parents. I highly recommend her.”

“Jack helped me through the most difficult time in my life. I started seeing Jack to cope with a marital separation. As that progressed into divorce, I also experienced the death of a loved one and some other distressing events. Jack not only helped me through the grieving process, but gave me a variety of life lessons and tools to help cope with stress and anxiety through all areas in my life. I am so very grateful for his guidance, and highly recommend him to anyone going through a stressful or confusing time. Thank you, Jack!!”

If you are struggling with the death of a loved one, grief counseling could be right for you. With BetterHelp, you have the tools you need right in front of you to reach out and grab the better life you deserve. Take the first step.


There are many ways that grief counseling can help clients learn more about their symptoms and find support after a loss. If you're interested in learning more about how a grief therapist can help you, consider reaching out to a provider in your area or online to discuss your options and find compassionate guidance. 

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