Grief is a feeling experienced after a loss. Most commonly, it’s associated with the pain and trauma of a loved one’s death, but it can also take other forms.
One definition describes grief as, “the conflicting feelings caused by the end of or change in a familiar pattern of behaviour.”
A person might grieve the loss of a job, a pet, a home, a relationship, or even an opportunity. What really defines grief is the pain associated with that loss, and the fact that it can seem totally debilitating.
Grieving people often feel isolated, because loss is deeply personal. But whatever you’re grieving, dedicated counselling can help you to process and live with your grief – and get back your quality of life.
Types of Grief
There are plenty of types of grief, but some common ones are outlined below:
Anticipatory grief is a sense of loss before the loss has actually occurred.
‘Normal’ grief, while not a very helpful title since there is no ‘normal’ way to grieve, refers to the natural grief experienced after loss.
Complicated grief refers to grief that is prolonged and results in deeper psychological or emotional concerns.
Disenfranchised grief is a grief that is experienced privately, unbeknownst to those around you – this might be the loss of a pregnancy that people didn’t yet know about, for example.
Common responses to grief
Grief is different for everyone, and can present itself in many different ways. You might be experiencing feelings or behaviours that you don’t even recognise are part of the grieving process.
According to the Department of Health, some of the most common reactions to grief are:
- Feelings of disbelief, confusion, anxiety, fear, sadness, anger, guilt and relief
- Sleep disturbances
- Loss of appetite.
Other common responses to grief can include:
- Loss of concentration
- Mood swings
- Lack of interest in daily life
Grief can bring up confusing and complex emotions. For example, some people experience guilt or remorse about time not spent together, others might experience relief that a loved one is no longer suffering.
Other people might feel irrational anger towards the person they’ve lost, for leaving them – even if they didn’t have a say in it.
All of these responses can be bewildering, and make it harder to go about your daily life. To an extent, they’re a normal part of the grieving process, and some things take time to resolve. But if your grief is stopping you from living a full life it’s important to get help.
What is the process of grief?
The Victorian Government’s Better Health Channel points out that, “grief is a process and not an event.” Grief is a very personal experience, and it’s a non-linear process, but there are common threads and themes that a lot of people experience.
You may have heard of the “five stages of grief”, a theory coined by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her 1969 book On Death and Dying, that posits that grieving people go through a series of ‘stages’ on the path to acceptance of loss. In Kübler-Ross’s model, the stages are:
- Denial – a refusal to accept that the loss has actually happened
- Anger – anger that the loss has happened to you
- Bargaining – an irrational process of negotiating: “if x then I’ll y”, to bring the person back
- Depression – deep sadness
- Acceptance – finally, a sense of acceptance that the loss has happened.
While these stages may help to provide a benchmark for understanding some of the feelings you experience after a loss, it’s important to note that this model is very simplistic, was originally formulated to refer to people who were dying not grieving, and is no longer considered accurate. It’s now recognised that grief is unpredictable, and can take all kinds of unexpected forms.
You may experience some, all, or none of these stages – you may find yourself experiencing complicated emotions not accounted for in the model. That’s why simple models of grief can be unhelpful, because they may leave you feeling guilty or confused if your experience doesn’t fit the mould.
The research on the psychology of grief is always expanding. There are other, newer models and theories about grief.
Specialist grief counselling
Specialist grief counselling can be delivered by trained practitioners, whether they’re exclusively grief counsellors, or generalist counsellors and psychologists with experience in the space.
There are lots of support options and resources available to help you through your grief. Life Supports has a network of trained counsellors, some of whom are specifically trained in grief and loss and have many years of client experience.
Though not always necessary, it can help to have someone specially trained in grief and loss, as they have extensive knowledge in how to tailor support to each individual.
What does grief counselling look like?
Grief counselling will vary based on both the practitioner’s skills and preference, and the client’s needs. There are a number of useful approaches.
Grief counsellors will often ask you to talk them through the death – and the life – of the person lost, as well as your own emotions about it. Grief counselling will generally involve at some stage confronting what’s happened head-on.
There are a number of techniques grief counsellors may use to help you.
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) – is a type of therapy that focuses on reframing issues and emotions, so that they become manageable. CBT for grief is designed to help you reconcile the loss of a loved one with a new life without them.
Some techniques involved in CBT include:
- Graded exposure to avoided or feared situations – exposure over time, in a gentle and controlled manner, to confronting or challenging thoughts
- Increasing pleasant events – cultivating moments of joy, happiness or simple contentment in life
- Challenging unhelpful or irrational thoughts (termed ‘maladaptive’ in practice) –developing responses to complicated or unhelpful thoughts like anger, guilt or self-hatred.
Other therapies and methods
Other therapies and methods can include:
- Traditional talk therapy, which means building a trusted relationship with a counsellor and over time discussing your emotions and experiences of grief with that person
- Complicated grief therapy is an evidence-based psychotherapy model designed to address the symptoms of ‘complicated’ grief, i.e. grief in which emotions are bound up in conflicting, difficult and counter-productive thoughts and feelings. It has roots in CBT and prolonged exposure therapy (the repeated telling of the story of loss), as well as focusing on personal goals
- Acceptance and commitment therapy is a type of therapy founded on the principle that suffering is a core part of the human experience, and focuses on reconfiguring your relationship with suffering so that you can come to accept it, and find some meaning and contentment while within it.
How can I cope with grief?
Grief is a fact of life, something everyone goes through – but that doesn’t make it easier. One of the most important things a grief counsellor will tell you is that you can’t eliminate it altogether.
However, there are strategies you can use to weather the storms, and cope with the ups and downs that come with a deeply-felt loss.
One of the best things you can do to help process grief is counselling. Professional mental health support, delivered by trained counsellors and therapists, is an evidence-based method for helping people process loss and regain quality of life.
Grief counsellors can help you in all sorts of ways, including:
- Working through pain
- Coming up with practical strategies to manage suffering
- Reframing memories so that you can think about your loved one without it being unbearable
- Learning to enjoy life again
Life Supports has a number of highly trained, qualified counsellors and therapists who specify in grief and loss. They’ll work with you to come up with a strategy to help you cope, build resilience and even maybe find a little joy in life.
There are also steps you can take in your personal life to help you cope with grief and loss:
- Acknowledge your suffering
- Seek support from friends and family
- Support your mental health by keeping your physical health in check – exercising, eating healthy foods, and keeping up a solid sleep schedule if you can
- Pay attention to your feelings – notice them, sit with them, and if you feel as though what you’re experiencing is moving beyond grief towards depression or otherwise unmanageable emotions, seek professional help.
Finding meaning in loss
Grief can help you learn to understand yourself and others, develop greater empathy, be more supportive of those around you, and it can make you more emotionally resilient. It can force you to confront deeper questions about life, and as a result live in a more meaningful way.
Grief is profound and painful because love and care is profound and beautiful. Grief alters the lens through which you view life, and coats it with wisdom, with reverence for life and with the complexities of what it means be a human who can connect deeply.
That’s not to say that you have to try to see a positive in your loss, but grief counselling can help us to privilege the voice and memories of the person lost, yet keep enough momentum to keep travelling.
Grief Counselling FAQs
How long does it take to process grief?
Grief does not have a set timeframe, and is different for everyone. There is no target for when you should start feeling ‘better’, it’s more important that you work towards processing your experience and to some degree accepting it. Often, it’s through acceptance that you can start to feel better again.
How do I move through the stages of grief?
While the stages of grief can be a useful framework for understanding complicated feelings around death and loss, don’t expect your experience to follow that exact blueprint. You can’t force your feelings to change, so one of the most important things a counsellor will tell you is to accept that you don’t have control over the experience or how it feels.
Once you stop fighting your feelings and allow them to be, you may well find them easier to process.
How do I know if I need grief counselling?
Grief counselling can help anyone who’s suffering through a loss of any kind. It’s a recommended way to help you process and deal with loss. However, there are a few signs that suggest you may be in particular need of professional help:
- Numbness or dissociation
- Overwhelming depression
- Overwhelming physical symptoms like fatigue or loss of appetite
- Irrational anger
- Withdrawing from loved ones
- Intense mood swings
- Thoughts of suicide or self-harm
- An extended period of time where you can’t seem to get past your grief.
Will grief counselling help the grieving process?
Grief counselling is a proven method to help you manage and process your grief, and move beyond the suffering to some degree of acceptance. Grief counselling can’t ‘fix’ or ‘cure’ your grief, but it can offer you tools to build strength and resilience, and still find some joy and contentment in life.
What is the relationship between loss and grief?
Loss is the absence of something you had in your life, whether that be a person who’s died, a relationship that’s over, or a lost opportunity, possession or ability.
Grief is the emotion connected to that loss, and it’s different for everybody. Some losses might cause you grief that other people wouldn’t typically recognise. For example, a lost job may cause you intense grief, but it can be hard if other people don’t understand that that’s what you’re experiencing, and so ignore or minimise your feelings.
Grief counselling at Life Supports
If you’re suffering a loss, you may benefit from professional mental health support. At Life Supports, we have plenty of caring, professional counsellors and therapists who will help you to work through your suffering in a constructive, healthy way.
To learn more, call us to make an appointment or enquiry on 1300 735 030.