Do Grief Counseling Techniques Work?

By Danni Peck |Updated August 1, 2022

We Understand That This Is A Difficult Time For You

Despite seminal research on the 5 stages of grief — or 7 stages of grief — current researchers agree 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 is not something 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 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. 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, 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 himself or herself also experiencing depression, anxiety, and physical symptoms that need addressing. Grief counseling 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 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 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, there typically are no such outward symbols of grief (aside from the day of one's funeral or memorial service). 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.

In American culture, it can seem a deceased spouse is barely cold before well-meaning relatives and friends begin their match-making schemes for the grieving person. Ideas such as this (the myth to replace the loss so that you can feel better) introduced too soon to the bereft can further complicate matters, as it causes them to feel that the time they need to grieve is abnormal. 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.

Some common emotional reactions experienced with the grief-process are ones you may be familiarized with from the 5-stage model: sadness, anger, disbelief or denial, bargaining (thinking things like, "maybe he would still be here if I had only been better"), guilt, and acceptance. However, grievers can feel many of those things in one day, and some individuals in grief may not feel one or more of those emotional reactions at all. They are still grieving.

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 grief feelings. It is possible to get stuck in a prolonged grief process longer than what is considered natural, 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 of a loved one. Without healthy coping mechanisms, those with prolonged grief may be stuck in negative thought patterns and self-defeating behaviors, such as if they feel guilty, take mind altering drugs to numb themselves, or don’t get enough sleep. 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 document their life in the past tense before the loss of the deceased 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 or family member gone from one’s life. 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 acceptance of how grief plays into one’s life. It’s hugely beneficial to feel that your feelings are being validated in grief counseling by one grief therapist who understands the client’s concerns.

The aim of good grief counselling and grief counseling techniques should be to aid in the grief process and set realistic expectations for working through the grief experience in one’s 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 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, has negative effects on mental health. This is why the commitment therapy offers is 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 heal from them, move forward, and build stronger coping skills. It is important that those experiencing grief must feel their pain, and 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, as in privately. Contrarily, we know that getting support for grief is necessary. Therapists offering grief counseling, family members, friends, and co-workers must be sympathetic to the process. All who are a part of the individual's life can support, can offer 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 collective quota. When we share our pain with others, especially in venues like grief therapy, that is where healing can happen.

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.

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