Grief, or bereavement, counseling helps those in mourning process their feelings of grief. This support can be provided by specially trained psychologists, mental health counselors, social workers, nurses, and pastoral counselors. It is also available in self-help grief support groups. Talking about fears, regrets, and other feelings can bring a greater sense of peace than if grief is hidden or dismissed. The overall goal of grief counseling is to help the bereaved pass through the normal, natural grief process as they come to terms with their loss.
The National Cancer Institute identifies some of the additional goals of grief counseling as:
- Identifying and expressing feelings about the loss
- Learning to separate emotionally from the loved one and make decisions alone
- Understanding one’s own ways of coping
There is no “right” way of dealing with grief. It is complex and messy and takes as long as it takes. As time moves forward, the intensity usually lessens. But if months go by and the extreme emotions prevent you from moving on with your life, you may be experiencing complicated grief. About one in ten people who are bereaved experience complicated grief.
Signs of complicated grief include:
- Intense longing or yearning for the deceased
- Inability to accept the death
- Difficulty moving on with life
- A shattered worldview; loss of a sense of security and difficulty trusting others
- Intrusive thoughts and images about the death or loss
- Inability to carry out normal daily functions at work, school, or home
Treating complicated grief
When grief takes a turn for the worse and becomes complicated grief, it is important to seek help from a healthcare provider. Unfortunately, many people experiencing complicated grief do not seek help. If you or someone you know is struggling with the grieving process, please make an appointment with a healthcare provider. Help is available.
Treatment for complicated grief can include:
- Complicated grief therapy. This therapy is more specialized than grief counseling and helps with complicated grief. This form of therapy draws from cognitive behavioral therapy and trauma therapy.
- Medication. Some health professionals prescribe short-term medication to help alleviate anxiety and/or sleeplessness during grief. There is disagreement in the medical community about the usefulness of medication for grieving in the early stages. However, when grief triggers clinical depression, medication such as antidepressants can be helpful.
- Exposure-based treatment. One form of grief therapy is modeled on treatment for posttraumatic stress disorder. The idea is for the bereaved to recall the loved one’s death and also hold imaginary conversations with the deceased. Initial studies show this therapy to be more effective than regular talk therapy for some people. Researchers caution, however, that this therapy should only be done under the care of trained therapists.