Do Grief Counseling Techniques Work?

Medically reviewed by Melissa Guarnaccia, LCSW
Updated April 3, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Despite seminal research on the various stages of grief, there may be no specific roadmap to grief recovery that fits every person. Grief can be an experience distinct to each individual. How grief is expressed, felt, or treated is not necessarily choreographed in a neat timeline with distinct patterns. This is why grief counseling techniques encompass a wide variety of formats and applications. While many associate grief with losing a loved one to death, other life events, such as divorce or the news of a major or terminal diagnosis, can result in grieving, and each of these cases the grief process may look entirely different. Understanding how grief counseling techniques work may help you better understand the phenomenon of grieving.

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Understanding Grief

Losses often accompany significant changes, even changes that we may see as positive. For example, becoming a parent for the first time can result in a feeling of a loss of pre-parenthood identity. Moving to a new job could mean saying goodbye to coworkers from your old workplace and potentially moving yourself and your family to a new home. How individuals adapt to these changes may be dependent upon that person's needs. 

Grief related to the death of a family or loved one or other significant loss can be complicated by other factors that disrupt the grieving process. For example, someone may lose their items and home when losing a spouse, causing several losses. The individual going through multiple losses related to the primary loss may find themself also experiencing depression, anxiety, and physical symptoms like headaches, nausea, or trouble sleeping. These symptoms of the grieving process can be complicated or increased if the person is already living with mental illness.

Grief counseling techniques used by therapists and counselors to help individuals move through the grieving process can be implemented based on the situation, the individual, and the type of grief.

Grief In Culture

In many cultures, grieving after a loved one's death is respected as a sacred, complex process and is commonly a public process. Individuals attempting to process grief healthily may wear an article of clothing during the funeral arrangements that symbolizes this complicated grief process so that others understand what is occurring. In American culture, though attitudes may change, it can be uncommon to display grief publicly after the death of a loved one.  Some American cultures may have more public funerals or ceremonies, yet in many cases grief isn’t expected to last past the funeral arrangements. 

In many cultures, the family is a source of comfort in grieving. For some people, after a loved one’s death, they are not expected to recover immediately, go on with life, go back to work, or consider new connections. 

Grieving individuals may be encouraged to find other connections after losing a loved one. However, pushing someone to move on before they're ready may cause further harm. The grieving process can be personal; there may not be a "right" or "wrong" way to grieve. Grief therapy can remind a person in grieving that they don't need to rush their feelings. They may learn that, while often unpleasant, grief can be necessary to feel and healthily navigate before finding acceptance. 

Therapy For Grief

Some common emotional reactions experienced with the grief process are ones you may be familiarized with from the seven-stage model, including: Change to five-stage model

  • Sadness 

  • Anger

  • Disbelief or shock 

  • Denial

  • Bargaining 

  • Guilt

  • Acceptance 

However, grievers might feel multiple emotions simultaneously, and some individuals in grief may not feel one or more of those emotional reactions. Grief is personal, and all of these experiences can be valid. It can also be normal to feel other emotions or cycle through the emotions several times. 

For some who are going through the grieving process, it may be helpful to seek grief therapy with a grief counselor. Grief therapy techniques can be helpful if you do not have a support system that allows being open about your grief and mental health. You might also benefit if your current coping skills are not helping you work through your feelings. You may feel stuck in a prolonged grief process, which can be referred to as complicated grief. In these cases, counseling could be valuable. 

Grief Therapy Techniques 

There are several grief therapy techniques employed by a grief therapist, including the following. 

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) 

Cognitive-behavioral therapy may help those experiencing chronic grief who dwell on the sudden death or loss of a loved one. Without healthy coping mechanisms, those with prolonged grief may experience negative thought patterns and self-defeating behaviors. Current research also supports that Internet-based CBT grief counseling is highly effective in persons with complicated grief due to the ability to remain in steady contact with a therapist.


Bibliotherapy is one of many grief counseling techniques in which the bereft documents their life in the past tense before losing the loved one. In this therapy, focusing on time had with the loved one may help an individual move on from the loss and recall positive memories. Bibliotherapy might be seen as a type of art therapy. Like play therapy, it's a form of creating to work through emotions.

Expressive Techniques 

Expressive techniques may be used with children and clients who value creativity. Clients may be asked in grief therapy to "draw their feelings" as a form of art therapy, and adults may be asked to journal their negative feelings or write a letter to a lost loved one. 

The key to these grief therapy techniques may be the expression of difficult emotions. Accepting your negative and positive feelings can be essential instead of feeling that you "should" feel differently about your grief. Expressive creation can help people distinguish grief nuances, how it affects their mental health, and potentially accept how grief plays into their lives.  

Why Process Grief Through Therapy? 

Grief counseling often aids in the grieving process. It sets realistic expectations for working through the client's experience in their own time by not rushing it along or causing the grieving person to feel overwhelmed. Grief experts warn that attempting to process grief too quickly may result in difficulty working through and feeling pain over the death or loss of a loved one. Unresolved grief may lead to chronic or prolonged grief. 

Not processing grief in one's way, whether in a grief therapy support group or talk therapy, can negatively affect mental and physical health. The commitment therapy offers can be beneficial and offer structure after a challenging time, as well as provide healthy coping mechanisms to manage prolonged grief.

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Further Grief Therapy Evidence 

While medication can manage the physical symptoms of depression, anxiety, or insomnia, it might impede the grieving process by masking emotions. Overuse of substances or other types of distractions may also serve the temporary purpose of not feeling when an individual is overwhelmed by their negative thought patterns. 

However, by disconnecting from true feelings or past crises, they may not process them, heal, move forward, or build more vital coping skills. Feeling pain and learning how to move through it can be two themes in grief therapy that support people from various backgrounds and experiences. 

If you are struggling with substance abuse, contact the SAMHSA National Helpline at (800) 662-4357 to receive support and resources.

There may not be a scripted path to healing, even with the grief therapy process. Grief cannot necessarily be quantified or placed on a timeline. However, you do not have to grieve alone, and support is available through grief therapy including group therapy, support groups, or even family therapy if other family members are involved. Additionally, many sources show that treatment for grief can be necessary. 

Overall, there are few scenarios where it’s not a good idea to seek grief counseling after a sad or traumatic experience.
Grief counselors, family, friends, and coworkers may help those grieving by acting sympathetic to the process. All who are a part of the individual's life can support the grieving individual by offering an ear, a shoulder, and a presence when able. If you are experiencing grief, be sure to ask for help from family or a licensed counselor. 

Counseling Options 

If you are feeling unequipped to deal with the reactions to a loss that you are experiencing, there are licensed mental health professionals available to help you. Time does not necessarily heal all wounds if you are not healthily coping with the grief process. Grief therapy may help you receive guidance when you are struggling to cope and help improve mental health outcomes. If you struggle to leave home or keep appointments, you can also partake in grief therapy from home through online therapy. 

Online therapy allows you to obtain professional, licensed grief therapy whenever and wherever you most need it, as long as you have an internet connection. You can also choose between phone, video, and live chat sessions if you're unsure if you want to meet with a therapist face-to-face. 

Over the years, research has been conducted on the efficacy of online therapy. A 2021 study focusing on the effectiveness of internet-based CBT for depression and prolonged grief found that grief symptom reduction with I-CBT was 50% and 75% for those with depression. These results are comparable to in-person therapy results. Overall, the researchers concluded that the response rate to treatment was similar to face-to-face methods. However, internet-based interventions had advantages over traditional therapies. For example, online grief resources can be associated with less stigma, and can have reduced costs. 


Grief does not necessarily take any set form or duration and can be experienced differently by each person. Some stages of grief may be repeated, some may not be experienced at all, and the stages might not be felt in a particular order. Grief counseling can help to distinguish grief stages, as well as help deal with difficult emotions.

While it can be tempting to follow your own way and brush grief away rather than feel all of the emotions that come along with it, processing your loss or significant life change through grief counseling may be essential to working through it, healing, learning coping skills, and finding acceptance in a healthy manner. Consider a grief therapist through a platform like BetterHelp to further understand your experiences and find support. You're not alone and counseling can help. 

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