Do Grief Counseling Techniques Work?
Updated October 04, 2018
Reviewer Martha Furman, LPC, CAC
Despite seminal research on the five stages of grief, current researchers agree there really is no roadmap to grief recovery. Grief is an experience that is distinct to individuals. How it is expressed, how it is felt, and recovery are not something that can be choreographed. While most associate grief with the loss of a loved one to death, there are other life events that result in grieving. Many agree how individuals adapt to these changes is dependent upon that person's personality and resilience.
Grief related to the death of a loved one or other significant loss can be complicated by other factors that disrupt the grieving process. For example, the loss of a spouse resulting in the loss of a home, the loss of friends, etc., the grieving process becomes more complex in that there are several losses involved. The individual going through multiple losses related to the primary loss may find him or herself also experiencing depression, anxiety, and physiological symptoms that need addressing. Techniques used by therapists and counselors to help individuals move through the grieving process should be implemented based upon the situation and the type of grief.
In many cultures, grieving is respected as a process. Individuals in mourning wear an article of clothing that symbolizes this period so that others who may be unaware can show respect. In American culture, there typically are no such outward symbols of grief. In most cultures, the family is a source of comfort in the grieving process, and in some people, are not expected to make an immediate recovery and go on with life, back to work, or to consider dating. In American culture, it seems a deceased spouse is barely cold before well-meaning relatives and friends begin their match-making schemes. Ideas such as this introduced too soon to the bereft can further complicate matters, as it causes them to feel the time they need is abnormal. The grieving process is personal, however, this is not to say that sinking into a deep depression is necessary to the process. Not at all, depression can hinder the process. Nonetheless, a period of sadness is to be expected, and respected.
For some who are going through the grieving process, it may be necessary to seek therapy. There are several different techniques employed by therapists to help clients through the process.
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy can help those individuals who dwell too much on the loss and may be stuck in self-defeating behaviors. Current research also supports that internet-based CBT is highly effective in persons with complicated grief, due to the ability to remain in steady contact with a therapist.
- Bibliotherapy is a technique in which the bereft document their life before the loss with the idea in mind that focusing on time had can help them move on from the loss.
- Expressive techniques are used especially with children and clients who are creative by nature. Children may be asked to "draw their feelings" and adults may be asked to journal their feelings. The key with this technique is expression.
The aim of grief counseling techniques should be to help in the process, not rush it along.
While medication can and does help with depression, it can also impede the process by masking emotions. It is important that those experiencing grief must feel their pain, and to express their pain. It is also important for those who have experienced loss to understand there is no script. Grief cannot be quantified, and it cannot be placed on a timeline. Therapists, family members, friends, and co-workers must be sympathetic to the process and allow time, which is said to be the healer of all things, to do its job. In the meanwhile, all who are a part of the individual's life can support, can offer an ear, a shoulder, and a mirror when necessary.