Grief counselling is a form of psychotherapy that aims to help people cope with grief and mourning following the death of loved ones, or with major life changes .
What is Grief Counselling?
Grief is an emotional response to a loss. Often the most intense grief is in response to the loss of a loved one or a divorce, but grief can also be experienced from the loss of: a job, a pet, a friendship, safety after a trauma, financial stability, etc. Typically, more significant losses involve more intense grief. Also, significant changes in your life such as a move, a job change or retirement can lead to feelings of grief and mourning for your old life.
Stage or Symptoms of Grief
Grief is multi-faceted with emotional, physical, social, behavioral and spiritual aspects. Depending on the person’s personality, family values, culture and religious beliefs, grief can manifest itself differently. Researchers have moved away from the conventional view that grief moves through orderly and predictable stages. There is not a typical response to a loss, nor a normal timeline for grieving. However, there are some common symptoms of grief:
- Shock and disbelief – Immediately after a loss or traumatic event, many people report feeling numb, have trouble believing what happened, or even deny the event. Many say they keep expecting the person they lost to show up or even think they see them.
- Sadness – The most universal symptom of grief is the deep sadness that comes as a result of an important loss. Feelings of emptiness, despair, yearning and loneliness are natural and healthy. As a result, you may cry a lot, but over time this pain will subside. However, if you do not feel any forward momentum day after day, you may be dealing with depression and may need to seek help from a professional grief counselor or therapist.
- Guilt – Another common emotion is regret or guilt about things left unsaid, or undone. You may feel guilty for not doing something to prevent the death, even if there was nothing you could have done. Or, guilt over feelings of relief, after a long, difficult illness by a loved one.
- Anger – Often the loss of someone or something can feel unfair, making you feel angry or resentful. You may feel the need to blame someone for this injustice – God, the doctor, the person who died for abandoning you, even yourself. For many, working through their grief is an exercise in forgiveness or anger management. Out-of-control anger can lead to a pattern of negative behaviors that can hurt your relationships, career, even your mental and physical health.
- Fear – A significant loss can trigger feelings of anxiety, helplessness and insecurity. You may even have panic attacks. The death of a loved one may cause you to question your own mortality or feel anxious about your life and the responsibilities you now face alone.
- Physical Symptoms – Due to the intense levels of stress associated with grief, the body often responds both physically and emotionally. Common physical problems include fatigue, nausea, sickness, weight loss or weight gain, aches and pains, and insomnia.
These emotions become less intense overtime and as you begin to accept the loss. The sadness may never completely go away, but it shouldn’t remain in the forefront of your mind either. In time, you will be able to move forward and find peace.
However, if you do not feel any forward momentum day after day, or your grief is getting worse, it may be a sign that grief has triggered a more serious mental health problem such as major depression or complicated grief. If the pain of grief is so severe and constant that it keeps you from resuming your life, please contact a therapist specializing in grief therapy today.
Coping with Grief and Loss – Tips
Tip #1 – Do not grieve alone.
The most important factor in healing from loss is having the sufficient support from your family, your friends, your faith, a bereavement support group and/or a therapist or grief counselor. Sharing your loss makes the burden of grief easier to carry. Some ways in which a strong social support network can help with the grieving process include:
- Friends and family can help with the funeral arrangements or help with the many new responsibilities you may have
- Religion can offer comfort with mourning rituals and community activities
- Bereavement support groups provide an opportunity to share your sorrow with others who can relate
- A grief counselor can help you work through these intense emotions of grief in a safe and constructive setting
Tip #2 – Take good care of yourself.
The stress of a major loss can negatively affect your immune system placing you at risk for illness. Now more than ever, it is imperative you take care of your physical and emotional health. The mind and body are connected and you will need your health in order to face and properly manage your grief. Avoiding your feelings will only prolong the inevitable, and unresolved grief can lead to complications such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse or prolonged health problems. Some tips to staying healthy through the grieving period are:
- Do something creative. Expressing your feelings in a physical or creative manner can help you to move through them more effectively – write, scrapbook, paint or get involved in a cause that honors the memory of your loved one.
- Eat, sleep and exercise. Your physical health is directly connected to your emotional well-being. Fight the stress and fatigue of grief with healthy lifestyle choices.
- Be patient with yourself. There is no set time-frame, or list of emotions you “should” feel. Let yourself feel what you need to feel without judgment or shame.
- Understand your grief triggers. It’s normal for certain milestones or holidays to trigger sad memories and intense feelings of grief. Be prepared. It can be very effective and therapeutic to plan ahead of time and make sure you have a constructive outlet to grieve on the impending day.
Tip #3 – Professional Grief Counselling
Many find that additional support from a licensed psychologist or psychiatrist helps to promote a healthy healing process. Grief is a process in which the more you understand and actively work through, the more effective the healing is.