Do Grief Counseling Techniques Work?

Updated December 21, 2022by BetterHelp Editorial Team

We Understand That This Is A Difficult Time For You.

Despite seminal research on the various stages of grief, current researchers agree that there 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 things that can be choreographed in a neat timeline with distinct stages that are true for all people. While most associate grief with the loss of a loved one to death, other life events can result in grieving, such as divorce or the news of lost health or a major mental health diagnosis.

There are often losses that accompany any major change, even changes that we 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 means saying good-bye to coworkers from your old workplace and potentially moving yourself and your family to a new home. Many agree on 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, in the loss of a spouse that also results in the loss of a home, the loss of friends, and so on, 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 themself also experiencing depression, anxiety, and physical symptoms that may need addressing. Grief counseling techniques used by therapists and counselors to help individuals move through the grieving process can be implemented based upon 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 it is commonly a public process. Individuals attempting to process grief in a healthy manner may wear an article of clothing during the funeral arrangements that symbolizes this complicated grief process, so that others who may be unaware can show respect. In American culture, though attitudes are changing, it can be uncommon to display grief publicly. In most cultures, the family is a source of comfort in the grieving process. For some peoples, loved ones are not expected to make an immediate recovery and go on with life, back to work, or to consider dating.

Sometimes, grieving individuals may be encouraged to find another partner in an attempt to replace the loss to feel better. Ideas such as this that are introduced too soon to the bereft can further complicate matters, however, as it may push them to move on before they are done grieving. The grieving process is personal; there is no real "right" or "wrong" way to grieve, which is perhaps why the suggestions of well-meaning others often fall upon deaf ears of the griever. But things like grief therapy will remind the person in grieving that they never need to rush their feelings and that grief, while unpleasant, is necessary to feel and healthily navigate in order to work through.

 Therapy For Grief

Some common emotional reactions experienced with the grief process are ones you may be familiarized with from the five-stage model: sadness, anger, disbelief or denial, bargaining (for example, “Maybe things would be different if I had done something differently.”) guilt, and acceptance. However, grievers can feel many of those things simultaneously, and some individuals in grief may not feel one or more of those emotional reactions at all, or they may go through them during multiple periods of the process. Grief is personal, and all of these experiences are valid.

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, or if you feel like your current level of coping skills are just not helping you work through your feelings. It is possible to get stuck in a prolonged grief process longer than what is considered typical, and this is referred to as complicated grief. 

There are several different grief therapy techniques employed by a grief therapist who often uses the same resources to help clients through the emotional roller coaster of experiencing complicated grief.

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy can help those individuals experiencing chronic grief who dwell constantly on the sudden death or loss of a loved one. Without healthy coping mechanisms, those with prolonged grief may get caught up in negative thought patterns and self-defeating behaviors, such as if they feel guilty or depressed, taking mind altering drugs to numb themselves. 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 the loss of the loved one, with the idea in mind that focusing on time had with the loved one can help them move on from the loss of another person’s life. In a way, bibliotherapy is a type of art therapy; like play therapy, it’s a form of creating to work through emotions.

  • Expressive techniques, which can be used as grief counseling techniques, are used especially with children and clients who are creative in their own way. Children 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 with these types of grief therapy techniques is an expression of difficult emotions. It is important to accept both your negative feelings and positive ones, instead of feeling like you "should" feel differently about the amount of grief you are having or how you are grieving. The expression can help people distinguish grief nuances, how it affects their mental health, and hopefully accept how grief plays into one’s life. 

Why Processing Grief Is Important

The aim of good grief counseling and grief counseling techniques should be to aid in the grieving process and set realistic expectations for working through the client’s experience in their own time, not rush it along or cause the grieving person to feel overwhelmed. Grief experts warn that attempting to process grief or resolving grief too fast can actually result in an inability to truly work through and feel pain over the death or loss of a loved one. This can lead to chronic grief or prolonged grief that’s not worked through in a healthy manner.

Not properly processing grief in one’s own way, whether in a grief therapy support group or talk therapy, can have negative effects on mental and physical health. This is why the commitment that therapy offers can be so beneficial, and where good grief counseling can help, with a qualified grief counselor who can make a big difference for your mental health.

We Understand That This Is A Difficult Time For You.

While medication or other mind-altering drugs can and do help with depression and mental health, they can also impede the process of grieving by masking emotions. Overuse of alcohol or drugs or other types of distraction can also serve the temporary purpose of not feeling our feelings when we feel overwhelmed by our negative thought patterns. But by disconnecting from our true feelings or past crises, we do not get to process them, heal, move forward, and build stronger coping skills. It is important that those experiencing grief must feel t pain and healthily express their pain. This is where grief therapy can come in.

It is also important for those who have experienced loss to understand there is no scripted way to healing, even throughout the grief therapy process. Grief cannot be quantified, and it cannot be placed on a timeline. There are other unhelpful myths about coping appropriately with grief in our society. One myth is that you have to grieve alone. Contrarily, we now know that getting support for grief is necessary. Therapists, family, friends, and co-workers must be sympathetic to the process. All who are a part of the individual's life can support the grieving individual through offering an ear, a shoulder, and a presence when able to, and it is very appropriate to ask for help during such a difficult time.

Another myth is that during the grief process, grievers have to be strong for others who are grieving, mostly by shoving their feelings aside so that another person has room for pain. Pain doesn't work like that; there is no quota. When we our pain with others, especially through venues like grief therapy, that is where healing can happen.

BetterHelp Is Here For You

If you are feeling unequipped to deal with the reactions to loss that you are experiencing, there are licensed mental health professionals available to help you by offering grief therapy at BetterHelp.com. Time does not heal all wounds if you are not healthily coping with the grief process. If you are using the time effectively by getting the right kind support you need, such as grief therapy and grief counseling, and taking the right actions to grieve, you may find that you start to feel more at peace with your loss.

Online therapy allows you to be able to obtain professional, licensed grief therapy whenever and wherever you most need it (so long as you have an internet connection), like the comfort of your own home. This can be particularly useful for those, such as grieving individuals, who may find it difficult to leave the home or do daily tasks like commuting to appointments. 

Over the years, much research has been conducted on the efficacy of online therapy. A 2021 study focused on the effectiveness of internet-based CBT for both 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, “These survey show that the response rate to the treatment is similar in face-to-face and guided Internet-based interventions. However, Internet-based interventions have many advantages over traditional therapies. For example, they can be more accessible and associated with less stigma (no need to visit mental health clinics), and they can have lower financial costs for the patients.”

Takeaway

Grief does not take any set form or duration and is experienced differently by each person. Some stages of grief may be repeated, some may not be experienced at all, and the stages are not likely to be felt in a particular order. While it can be tempting to try to brush grief away rather than feel all of the unpleasantness that comes along with it, processing your loss or significant life change and the grief associated is essential to working through it, healing, and being able to healthily move on. A grief therapist armed with personalized grief therapy techniques can be an invaluable resource as you journey through your unique experience with grief.

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