Understanding Grief

There are emotions people associate with negative events that are nevertheless natural and normal aspects of life. Grief is one of them. The grieving process can be overwhelming, but it can be a healthy way to cope with loss, when underlying mental health disorders are not present.

Life events that can lead to grief include:

  • Death in the family or in a close network of friends
  • Losing an ability due to injury or infirmity
  • Chronic illness
  • Terminal diagnosis
  • The end of a relationship
  • Job loss
  • Surviving a natural disaster

Understanding how grief works can help individuals experiencing loss move through grief in a healthy way.

The Stages of Grief

The mental health community generally defines grief as having five stages:

Denial: Denial is the first stage and typically occurs immediately upon learning of a loss or experiencing an event. Numbness and shock set in, allowing the individual to cope with the overwhelming emotions of the event. Eventually, individuals will want to deal with these emotions; at the initial onset of grief, however, denial is healthy and normal and serves as a temporary protection.

Anger: What follows denial typically is anger. The anger that sets in can be interpreted as a natural reaction to the hopelessness created in someone by traumatic life events. Individuals often look around for somewhere to set the “blame” for an event.

Bargaining: In this stage, the individual experiencing grief begins to consider what they could have changed about the triggering event. This involves retelling the events in terms of “what ifs” and “if onlys.”

Depression: Depression arrives as the fourth stage once the individual realizes that anger and negotiation has changed nothing about the situation. People can experience crying jags, loss of appetite, and insomnia during this part of the grieving process.

Acceptance: Acceptance is the final stage wherein the individual begins to accept the new normal that has resulted from the traumatic event. Many often misconstrue acceptance as getting over what happened or even forgetting a loved one. This is not the case. It is normal and healthy to learn to cope with a new normal.

The stages of grief do not always proceed in an orderly fashion. Some people, for example, might vacillate between anger and bargaining a few times before transitioning to acceptance. It is important to understand that grief is a living process unique to the individual.

The Duration of Grief

There is no way to tell how long grief will last. When in the depths of grieving, many think about when and how it will end. Each experience, again, is unique to the individual and depends on factors such as their network of support, their own coping skills, and the nature of the inciting trauma.

In cases of what is called “complicated grief,” the individual may have a very hard time moving through the process. In these scenarios, counseling can be of help. The symptoms of this type of grief can include:

  • Clinical depression symptoms
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Self-harming behavior
  • An inability to execute common daily tasks
  • Self-blame and guilt

Overcoming Grief

Overcoming grief does not mean belittling, forgetting, or dismissing what happened. Sadness can and may continue after we pass through grief, but ideally we come out with coping mechanisms that allow us to return to a productive way of life. There are several types of intervention that can help those struggling with grief to get to this point.

Individual Counseling

Grief counseling for the individual leverages talk therapy to allow the patient to talk through emotions. Therapist and patient also work on develop coping mechanisms for moving forward. A therapist working with an individual can also help ensure that the individual does not transition into complicated grief.

Group Counseling

Group counseling can be of benefit to those experiencing grief for several reasons, not the least of which is that many grieving individuals feel alone. The group work can help the individual move out of the isolation of grief. A therapist helps guide the conversation and may provide tips and tools for the members of the group.

Grief Counseling in Childhood

The grieving process is very different in children. Their perceptions vary from adults and they also often have a different way of processing emotions. Kids experiencing grief, as such, can benefit from working with a therapist who specializes in grief in children. The therapist can work with the child and her parents to build coping mechanisms for the child as she works through the process of grief.

Tips counselors may impart to parents can include:

  • Learning to discuss grief as a family
  • Giving children space to ask the questions they need to ask
  • Making room for the child to feel what she needs to feel

Grief Counseling for Adolescents

Adolescents often understand more about grief and loss than a young child, but have not had much experience with the process. Counseling can help teenagers process grief in their own unique way.

Parents with grieving teenagers may wish to:

  • Maintain open lines of communication about the loss or trauma
  • Understand and respect that a teen’s feelings are valid and may vary from the parent’s
  • Allow them space to grieve in their own way
  • Keep an eye out for self-harming or suicidal ideation
  • Loop in teachers and counselors so they can offer support

Anyone going through the grieving process can benefit from grief counseling. Contact our offices today to explore your counseling options for grief.

Life events that can lead to grief include:

  • Death in the family or in a close network of friends
  • Losing an ability due to injury or infirmity
  • Chronic illness
  • Terminal diagnosis
  • The end of a relationship
  • Job loss
  • Surviving a natural disaster

Understanding how grief works can help individuals experiencing loss move through grief in a healthy way.

The Stages of Grief

The mental health community generally defines grief as having five stages:

Denial: Denial is the first stage and typically occurs immediately upon learning of a loss or experiencing an event. Numbness and shock set in, allowing the individual to cope with the overwhelming emotions of the event. Eventually, individuals will want to deal with these emotions; at the initial onset of grief, however, denial is healthy and normal and serves as a temporary protection.

Anger: What follows denial typically is anger. The anger that sets in can be interpreted as a natural reaction to the hopelessness created in someone by traumatic life events. Individuals often look around for somewhere to set the “blame” for an event.

Bargaining: In this stage, the individual experiencing grief begins to consider what they could have changed about the triggering event. This involves retelling the events in terms of “what ifs” and “if onlys.”

Depression: Depression arrives as the fourth stage once the individual realizes that anger and negotiation has changed nothing about the situation. People can experience crying jags, loss of appetite, and insomnia during this part of the grieving process.

Acceptance: Acceptance is the final stage wherein the individual begins to accept the new normal that has resulted from the traumatic event. Many often misconstrue acceptance as getting over what happened or even forgetting a loved one. This is not the case. It is normal and healthy to learn to cope with a new normal.

The stages of grief do not always proceed in an orderly fashion. Some people, for example, might vacillate between anger and bargaining a few times before transitioning to acceptance. It is important to understand that grief is a living process unique to the individual.

The Duration of Grief

There is no way to tell how long grief will last. When in the depths of grieving, many think about when and how it will end. Each experience, again, is unique to the individual and depends on factors such as their network of support, their own coping skills, and the nature of the inciting trauma.

In cases of what is called “complicated grief,” the individual may have a very hard time moving through the process. In these scenarios, counseling can be of help. The symptoms of this type of grief can include:

  • Clinical depression symptoms
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Self-harming behavior
  • An inability to execute common daily tasks
  • Self-blame and guilt

Overcoming Grief

Overcoming grief does not mean belittling, forgetting, or dismissing what happened. Sadness can and may continue after we pass through grief, but ideally we come out with coping mechanisms that allow us to return to a productive way of life. There are several types of intervention that can help those struggling with grief to get to this point.

Individual Counseling

Grief counseling for the individual leverages talk therapy to allow the patient to talk through emotions. Therapist and patient also work on develop coping mechanisms for moving forward. A therapist working with an individual can also help ensure that the individual does not transition into complicated grief.

Group Counseling

Group counseling can be of benefit to those experiencing grief for several reasons, not the least of which is that many grieving individuals feel alone. The group work can help the individual move out of the isolation of grief. A therapist helps guide the conversation and may provide tips and tools for the members of the group.

Grief Counseling in Childhood

The grieving process is very different in children. Their perceptions vary from adults and they also often have a different way of processing emotions. Kids experiencing grief, as such, can benefit from working with a therapist who specializes in grief in children. The therapist can work with the child and her parents to build coping mechanisms for the child as she works through the process of grief.

Tips counselors may impart to parents can include:

  • Learning to discuss grief as a family
  • Giving children space to ask the questions they need to ask
  • Making room for the child to feel what she needs to feel

Grief Counseling for Adolescents

Adolescents often understand more about grief and loss than a young child, but have not had much experience with the process. Counseling can help teenagers process grief in their own unique way.

Parents with grieving teenagers may wish to:

  • Maintain open lines of communication about the loss or trauma
  • Understand and respect that a teen’s feelings are valid and may vary from the parent’s
  • Allow them space to grieve in their own way
  • Keep an eye out for self-harming or suicidal ideation
  • Loop in teachers and counselors so they can offer support

Anyone going through the grieving process can benefit from grief counseling. Contact our offices today to explore your counseling options for grief.