The loss of a loved one is a difficult experience that can produce a wide range of emotions, including grief. While death is a natural part of life, people sometimes struggle to cope with the passing of family, friends, and close relations.
Grief counseling offers a way to accept the loss and overcome the challenges of grieving in a safe setting. Working with a grief counselor can provide ways to process emotions and find a path forward.
Not everyone requires counseling to move through the stages of grief. However, loss affects everyone differently. Here is a closer look at what you can expect from grief counseling, including its benefits and the techniques involved.
What Is Grief Counseling?
Grief counseling is a form of counseling intended to help individuals cope with loss. Grief counseling aims to help individuals process their feelings, accept loss, and adapt to life without their loved ones.
As grief affects everyone differently, some people may find it easier to return to their normal routines after experiencing a major loss. However, others develop difficulties moving on.
According to research, about 10% to 20% of bereaved individuals experience psychiatric difficulties due to grief. This may include struggles with everyday tasks, increased depression, anxiety, or difficulty accepting loss. Grief counseling helps these individuals develop strategies or alter their thought patterns to overcome their struggles.
People do not often discuss grief publicly, but it affects millions of people each year. About 2.5 million people die in the United States every year. Each person leaves an average of five people behind who experience major grief.
While grief counseling is primarily associated with the loss of a close relation, counseling may also be used to overcome grief from any loss, such as the loss of a career or the loss of a limb due to injury.
Understanding the Five Stages of Grief
Grief counseling is often used when you cannot deal with grief and continue with your life in a meaningful way. One of the steps of counseling is acknowledging the five stages of grief:
Keep in mind that not everyone processes grief in the same way. People also experience the stages of grief in different orders and in different timeframes.
Denial is often the first stage of grief. It helps your mind deal with the sudden loss of a loved one. Denial tends to create a state of shock or a feeling of numbness. You cannot accept the loss, so you deny reality. You may also deny your emotions.
Denial is a helpful emotion. It makes it easier to only focus on the emotions that you can handle. It gives you time to process your feelings. However, as the denial starts to fade away, the emotions that you suppressed can come rushing back.
Most people experience anger during the grieving process. You may even direct your anger at the departed. For example, you may feel betrayed that they left you. Others may direct their anger at God, doctors, or friends and family who could have intervened somehow.
Anger often comes from a lack of connection. For example, you may feel lost after losing a loved one. Anger helps fill this void by giving you somewhere to direct your energy. While anger can lead to poor decision-making and other consequences, it is also a sign of the intensity of your loss.
Bargaining sometimes comes before a loss. For example, you may bargain with God to spare your loved one. After the loss, you may continue to bargain. For instance, people often try to form a truce with a higher power, claiming that they will devote their lives to a specific cause if they can reverse the loss.
People also frequently use “what/if” scenarios during this stage of grief. You may start replaying the events or circumstances that led to the loss. It is common for grievers to question their actions and wonder if they could have done anything differently to prevent the loss.
Depression can occur at any point during the grieving process. However, depression is more common and often more severe after anger and bargaining.
The previous stages keep people focused on the past. You may become so focused on your loss that you are not really in the present moment. When you stop and consider your current situation, you experience depression.
Depression often comes from not having the departed in your life anymore. Their loss creates a void in your everyday life that may lead to a loss of enjoyment.
Acceptance is the final stage of grief. It occurs when an individual accepts their loss. Finally, they accept the reality of the situation, which allows them to decide on their path forward.
Acceptance does not mean that the person is “over” their loss. It simply means that they accept the loss and understand the need to continue living.
Individuals who gain acceptance may still experience depression, anger, or bargaining moments. However, they are at a stage where they can start exploring new connections and opportunities.
How Does Grief Counseling Work?
Each counselor develops their own strategies for working with clients dealing with grief. However, their strategies are often based on established methods.
Many counselors start by having the client process the story of the death. Then, the counselor has the client talk directly about the loss event itself. After learning about the events surrounding the loved one’s passing, the counselor will explore their history and relationship.
As the client talks about the deceased, the counselor begins identifying the emotions and challenges that the client is struggling with. This may include trauma, depression, or an increased focus on one of the stages of grief. From here, the counselor may use different techniques or methods to help the client cope with their emotions.
Types of Grief Support and Counseling
The methods used to help you cope with grief may also depend on the type of grief counseling you seek. For example, some counselors specialize in helping people overcome grief from traumatic events, such as the unexpected loss of a loved one or witnessing their death.
Some of the types of grief counseling and techniques used include:
- Individual grief counseling
- Group therapy
- Complicated grief counseling
- Traumatic grief therapy
- Art therapy
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
- Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT)
- Play therapy
Each type of counseling or therapy offers different methods for dealing with grief and its impact on everyday activities. Here is a closer look at each technique:
Individual Grief Counseling
Individual grief counseling includes individual sessions with the patient and counselor. This is the most common form of bereavement service. In addition, an individual may receive grief counseling through a hospital after the passing of a loved one.
Some individuals may not feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and emotions in a group setting. Individual grief counseling allows people to receive advice for their specific issues in a safe, one-on-one space.
Counseling and therapy sessions completed in a group setting are known as group counseling. Some people find it comforting to share their emotions with other people going through the same things. The other patients in the group therapy session also deal with grief and work towards the common recovery goal.
Individuals with a limited support system may lack an outlet for their feelings. A group setting can provide the necessary support. It allows individuals to share their emotions with people who can relate. Group sessions are also used for family counseling. After losing a family member, the surviving family members may prefer to work through their grief as a family.
Complicated Grief Counseling
Complicated grief counseling is a form of counseling intended to help individuals who have developed additional mental issues due to their grief. For example, some people may develop troubling thoughts or dysfunctional habits after losing a loved one.
Complicated grief counseling often includes strategies for regulating emotions. For example, counselors may teach clients to recognize and replace their negative thoughts to overcome their difficulties and better process their grief.
Traumatic Grief Therapy
Traumatic grief therapy is used to help individuals overcome grief caused by a traumatic loss. For example, witnessing the death of a loved one is often a very traumatic experience. The trauma may heighten emotions and make it more difficult for the griever to move through the stages of grief.
With traumatic grief therapy, patients receive specialized treatment for coping with extreme trauma. For example, a counselor may employ one of the techniques discussed below to help individuals handle the stress and anxiety related to the traumatic event.
Art therapy allows clients to express their emotions using various art mediums, such as painting, drawing, or sculpting. Using a creative outlet can help people express themselves when they cannot find the right words or do not feel comfortable sharing their thoughts.
Art can give counselors more insight into the mindset of their patients. Creating art may also offer relief and relaxation, which can help the griever understand and process their thoughts in a more meaningful way.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of psychotherapy that identifies and changes specific thought patterns. For example, grief may cause you to develop negative habits, such as constantly dwelling on a fact or directing your anger at a particular person or group.
CBT helps you become more aware of your negative thoughts and behaviors. Becoming more conscious of your thoughts allows you to reframe or restructure them to develop more positive habits.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)
ACT is a type of therapy that involves accepting negative feelings, allowing you to develop healthier thought patterns. ACT often uses mindfulness techniques to help people recognize their emotions.
ACT is often used when the previous forms of therapy do not produce adequate results. It allows you to address your feelings to focus on the present.
Play therapy is a form of therapy typically used to help children acknowledge and cope with grief.
Many children deal with the loss of a loved one before their 18th birthday. Data shows that about 5% to 8% of children in the US have lost at least one sibling.
During childhood, the loss of a family member can be especially difficult, as children may not have the same understanding of mortality or lack the emotional development to recognize their grief.
Children’s grief counseling services often use play therapy to help children express their emotions in creative ways.
How Much Does Grief Counseling Cost?
A single therapy session cost is between $100 and $200 in the United States. However, the price varies from state to state. The training and experience of the therapist or counselor also influence the cost of therapy and counseling sessions.
You can also find low-cost or free grief counseling online through websites such as BetterHelp. However, online grief counseling may not work for everyone.
If you choose to work with a local counselor, you may receive help covering the costs. Private insurance and Medicare both help cover the costs of grief counseling.
Using Private Insurance for Grief Counseling
The Affordable Care Act made many mental health services part of the list of essential health benefits that private insurers must cover. The out-of-pocket costs for counseling or therapy depend on your insurance plan.
For example, some plans may cover 90% of the costs while others only cover 50%. The coverage may also depend on whether the counselor or therapy is part of the insurer’s network of healthcare providers. Choosing a counselor outside of the network often results in higher out-of-pocket costs.
Individuals who do not have insurance through an employer may qualify for insurance through the Federal Marketplace or their state’s healthcare system.
Using Medicare for Grief Counseling
Medicare Part B covers a portion of the costs for outpatient mental health services. The covered services include grief counseling, wellness visits, and individual or group therapy.
Medicare may cover 80% of the costs of diagnosing and treating grief or depression. In addition, patients who receive services at an outpatient clinic may pay an additional copayment.
Spouses with Medicare coverage also receive access to hospice grief counseling and spiritual counseling following the death of a spouse currently receiving hospice care.
Are Grief and Depression the Same Thing?
Depression and grief share many symptoms but are distinct experiences. Understanding the distinction can ensure that grieving or depressed individuals receive the proper treatment to cope with their emotions.
Grief is an emotional response to loss. It is a feeling of deep sorrow, typically due to someone’s passing. People also refer to it as broken heart syndrome. Depression is a mental state that produces a loss of interest and a persistent feeling of sadness. It is also one of the main stages of grief.
After a major loss, people often experience anger and guilt. These feelings are rooted in the past. You may feel guilty for not saying “I love you” one last time or continually replay “what/if” scenarios in your head. After dwelling on the past, most people gradually bring their attention to the present. You start to pay attention to how your life is different due to the loss. This often leads to depression.
Grief counseling offers a way to deal with depression and other emotions connected to grief. A counselor can help replace negative thoughts with positive ones and develop strategies for coping with moments of stress or depression.
Grief Counseling vs. Grief Therapy: What’s the Difference?
Counseling and therapy are both focused on helping individuals address emotional issues, such as grief or depression. Counselors and therapists discuss issues with clients to help them find solutions. However, there are several technical differences between counseling and therapy.
Grief counseling typically involves working with a counselor over a short period to develop methods for coping with grief. Grief therapy often involves a broader approach. Therapy generally is a long-term process that focuses on the impact of grief on all areas of the client’s life.
A therapist may also be necessary for dealing with mental issues and challenges brought on by the grief. A therapist can work on issues outside of the typical responses to grief. For example, an individual experiencing grief may also suffer from anxiety or depression. Grief can also lead to challenges for those dealing with addiction and substance abuse.
How to Use Grief to Create Positive Action
Most people deal with grief through emotion-driven activities, such as speaking or writing about their feelings. Attending grief therapy is another form of emotion-driven activity. However, research shows that grieving can also be activity-oriented. You can use grief to create positive action.
Here are a few examples:
- Spread awareness
- Create initiatives
- Help inspire others
Some people use their personal losses to spread awareness. After losing a loved one to breast cancer, many people feel compelled to help spread awareness of the disease and encourage early screening.
Many people create initiatives to honor the deceased. For example, establishing a scholarship or launching a nonprofit in the name of a loved one can help others.
Grief can also be used to inspire others. Showing others that you can overcome grief can inspire and encourage others dealing with the same emotions.
Using grief to do good offers a healthy way for grievers to process their emotions. Helping others can lead to additional support and recognition that you are not alone.
Tips for Coping with Grief
Everyone deals with grief in their own way. However, the following three tips are known to be beneficial for anyone who is dealing with loss:
- Seek support
- Take care of yourself
- Seek professional counseling
Everyone needs support, especially when grieving. Make sure that you maintain your support system by staying in touch with family, friends, and others. Share your grief and discuss your emotions with people who can relate.
It is also important for grieving people to take care of themselves physically and mentally. Try to go to sleep at the same time each night. Eat healthy foods and get regular exercise. Many people also benefit from professional counseling.
Here are a few of the benefits of grief counseling:
- You may find it easier to talk to a stranger
- You may lack a support network to help share your emotions
- You are struggling to accept your loss and move forward
- You need help overcoming challenges caused by grief, such as addiction or depression
Grief counseling ensures that you have someone to talk to. It allows you to share your thoughts and receive advice from someone who is trained to help people in your exact situation.
How to Begin Therapy for Grief and Bereavement
If you would like to seek professional grief counseling, you should first determine your health insurance status. Individuals with Medicare can likely receive coverage for grief counseling through their current healthcare providers.
Private insurance may cover some or all the costs of grief counseling or therapy. Counseling is considered an essential health benefit, requiring insurers to offer some form of coverage. You can often receive a lower copayment by choosing a counselor or therapist in your insurer’s network.
Most insurance companies provide access to a healthcare provider directory or search feature. You can use the directory to look for counselors in the covered network in your local area.
You can also use online resources to find mental health professionals in your region. For example, Psychology Today has an easy-to-browse directory of therapists in the United States.
After finding a therapist or counselor, contact their offices to schedule your initial appointment. Before your initial appointment, you may need to fill out some paperwork. Mental health professionals may require you to fill out HIPAA forms, submit insurance information, and provide more details about your medical history.
Does Grief Counseling Work?
Grief counseling can be a very effective tool for helping individuals deal with the stages of grief. A counselor can help you address your emotions and behaviors. You may learn methods to deal with common stressors or alter your perspective to see things more positively.
Grief counseling is especially beneficial for those that are struggling more than usual. If the grief is ongoing and interferes with your normal functioning, you may benefit from grief counseling or therapy. Grief counseling can help individuals address their emotions and move on with their healing.
A major loss can have a profound impact on your emotions. The feelings of denial, anger, and guilt that you experience are natural parts of grieving. When you struggle with these emotions or they keep you from living your life to the fullest, grief counseling may help.
Grief counseling helps you process your thoughts and emotions. A grief counselor can offer advice and support, helping you accept your loss and develop a more positive outlook. Instead of trying to go through the stages of grief alone, consider working with a licensed grief counselor or qualified therapist.