What is Grief?

Grief is a natural emotional reaction to loss. During the grieving process, people can feel completely overwhelmed by sadness. Often, grief is a healthy way of coping with loss and individuals who feel it do not have underlying disorders.

Several types of loss can make people grieve, including:

  • Death of a friend, family member, or pet
  • Loss of an ability
  • Chronic or terminal diagnosis
  • Ending a relationship
  • Losing a job
  • Living through a natural disaster

Understanding the natural grieving process can help people move through grief healthfully.

5 Stages of Grief

Mental health professionals generally recognize five stages of the grieving process:

Denial: This part of the process typically starts as soon as a person learns that a loss has occurred. The shock and numb feelings that denial brings help shelter individuals from the overwhelming flood of negative emotions that loss can bring. While people must cope with these emotions at some point, it can be too much to handle at once.

Anger: Rage and frustration often follow denial when the reality of the situation begins to take hold. Anger is often a reaction to the helplessness that people feel after a loss. During this stage, people may look for something or someone to blame; they may even get angry with a higher power.

Bargaining: This part of the grieving process makes people wonder what they could have done differently to avoid the situation. “If only” and “what if” statements flood the minds of a grieving person.

Depression: Once it is clear that the loss did happen, anger isn’t helping, and they cannot change things, helplessness may set in. The sadness, loneliness, and depression of loss can feel particularly strong at this stage. It is typical for people to cry frequently, experience sleep disturbances, and struggle to eat during this stage.

Acceptance: When someone reaches acceptance of a loss, it does not mean that they are “over it.” In fact, some losses never fully leave people. Instead, the acceptance stage means that the person has learned how to continue on with the loss in their hearts.

While the grieving process often goes in the order listed above. However, some people oscillate between a few of the stages before reaching acceptance. For example, someone may go between anger and depression several times.

How Long Does Grief Last?

Many people in the throes of grief wonder when their pain will end. Unfortunately, there is no timetable for these feelings. The length of time it takes for someone to move through the stages depends on the significance of the loss, the person’s unique coping mechanisms, and the amount of help they get along the way.

Some people struggle to move through the grieving process without professional help. This is called “complicated grief,” and may require counseling. Signs of complicated grief include:

  • Signs of clinical depression
  • Thoughts of suicide or self-harm
  • Difficulty making it through daily activities
  • Blaming oneself for the event

How to Overcome Grief

Even though grief is healthy in response to loss, it can feel impossibly difficult at times. Some people struggle to go through the grieving process because they believe it is an afront to what they lost. However, it’s important to remember that accepting loss is not the same thing as “getting over” something.

Instead, healthfully moving through the stages of grief can be a way to honor the loss. While sadness may always linger, some treatments can help people learn to live full lives alongside that sadness.

Individual Grief Counseling

Therapists can help grieving people process their complicated feelings. In individual grief counseling sessions, clients meet with their counselors one-on-one. They talk about their emotions and learn healthy, respectful coping mechanisms. Counselors watch out for signs of complicated or dangerous grief.

Group Grief Counseling

Group therapy sessions for grief can help people learn coping mechanisms like they would in individual counseling. A mental health professional leads the group while members share stories and feelings.

Group counseling also allows people to feel less lonely in their emotions. Grief can be an extremely isolating experience. By connecting with others in similar situations, individuals can feel less alone.

Grief Counseling for Children

Kids often understand much less about loss than the adults in their lives. As such, they tend to grieve in different ways. Specially trained counselors can help children understand the loss, communicate their feelings, and learn healthy coping techniques.

Parents can participate in their child’s grief counseling session. This participation helps them ensure that the family’s cultural and religious beliefs are respected. Furthermore, parents learn techniques to continue healthy grieving at home. Counselors may tell parents to:

  • Talk about the loss and grief as a family
  • Allow children to ask questions whenever they arise
  • Make space for whatever feelings the children experience during grief

Grief Counseling for Teenagers

While adolescents understand more about loss than younger children, they may never have experienced it before. Furthermore, the teenage brain works differently than the adult mind, so they often need help coping.

These tips can help parents with grieving teenagers:

  • Keep the line of communication open about the loss
  • Respect and acknowledge the teen’s feelings, even if they aren’t the same as your own
  • Give them the freedom to grieve in their own ways
  • Watch out for signs that the teen needs professional help, especially signs of suicidal thoughts
  • Tell teachers and counselors about the loss so they can help

Even people who do not show signs of complicated grief can benefit from therapy during the grieving process.

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