What is Grief Counseling?

By Paula López, LCSW, Trauma and Loss Clinical Specialist in Dublin, CA

When we think of grief we automatically think – death. Grief is not just about the loss of a loved one. Grief can result from any of the following:

  • a divorce
  • loss of a job
  • retirement
  • loss of a friendship
  • moving

Grief is both a natural and a healthy process for coping with a major loss. While there are no defined stages of grief (each person experiences grief in a different way), many grievers do experience some common responses to grief. These can include

  • a decrease in concentration
  • a sense of numbness
  • an increase or decrease in eating habits
  • disrupted sleeping patterns
  • fluctuating emotions

Again, these are common responses to grief. There is not a right way or a wrong way to grieve a loss. We feel sad, hurt, angry, and unsettled. To avoid these feelings, we may often take actions that only distract us or convert feelings into logical ideas such as “he’s in a better place” or “she wasn’t right for you.” Most of us are socialized to deal with grief in one of two ways: get over it and to grieve alone.

In trying to deal with our grief, we often turn to ways that temporarily relieve our distress. These may include

  • eating
  • exercising
  • shopping
  • alcohol/drugs
  • isolation

While these things may feel good in the moment, these behaviors can have long-term effects on our well being because we are burying our grief feelings and not dealing with the loss. We need to talk about our feelings and we need to share and feel we are being heard. Otherwise we bury our emotions and pretend that things are “fine.” Numbing or hiding our emotions can consume energy, leaving us feeling drained, irritable, angry, and incomplete.

Grief counseling can provide opportunities to explore and share feelings, which are crucial to the healing process. Change and confronting painful feelings, memories, and thoughts takes courage, vulnerability, willingness, and openness. We can take steps to live mindfully (being present, enjoying today, being in the moment) and try not to control the past or the future. In a web seminar entitled, The Power of Vulnerability, Dr. Brené Brown stated, “practicing and planning for hard moments will not change them or make them hurt any less.”

The simplest way to learn how to express your grief is to find someone who will listen and encourage you to describe how you are feeling, and who will not be judgmental or dismiss what you are going through. A grief counselor can help you cope with a loss, help you manage your feelings, and reassure you that your feelings are expected and normal. Grief counselors offer individual therapy (short or long-term therapy) or group support (usually a 6-12 week group, or ongoing support), and often just supportive listening and coaching is a major component of therapy. A therapist will help you come to terms with the loss, work through the pain, and adjust to your new life while giving you permission to feel as you need to.

There are five steps we can take today to help us begin to heal from loss.

  1. Be aware of our thoughts and feelings. We have to be honest with how we are feeling and that we are dealing (or not dealing) with a loss. To do this, simply say out loud, “I feel _______” (sad, hurt, angry, scared, etc.). This can be accomplished through writing in a journal.
  2. Next is to accept these thoughts. Acknowledge you are feeling this way and that it’s okay to feel this way. We need to feel the discomfort to be able to move forward in the journey.
  3. Allow ourselves the need to communicate the thoughts and feelings that come up for us. Feelings must be heard and acknowledged. Remember grieving people want to be heard, not fixed.

It’s important to express our feelings when we are grieving. Sharing our loss makes the burden of grief easier to carry. Wherever the support may come from, accept it, and do not grieve alone. Connection is an important step in the grieving process.

  1. Admit we may need help from a trusted friend, therapist, or other supportive endeavor. Find someone who will listen with empathy and can assist us in talking through what we are experiencing. We want to find someone that will walk alongside us, not take over, but to take our hand and say, “I am on this journey with you.” Another way to get support is joining a support group. Oftentimes grief can be lonely and being able to share your sadness with others who have experienced similar losses can be helpful. Support and bereavement groups can be located in your area through local hospitals, funeral homes, or counseling centers. Additionally, if you follow a religious tradition, this can provide some comfort through spiritual activities (praying, meditating) and can provide solace.
  2. And finally, allow ourselves to let go of the pain of the loss. I’m not suggesting we forget the situation or the person but to allow ourselves to say goodbye to the pain that the loss generated.

Paula Lopez, LCSW in Dublin, CAAbout this ContributorPaula López is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with over 8 years experience helping children, families, and individuals in a variety of nonprofit and school settings. Paula has a general therapy practice in Dublin, CA and provides grief and loss services for anyone experiencing a trauma, loss, or death and struggling with depression, anxiety, and sadness. She holds a certification as Level-1 Trauma and Loss Clinical Specialist from The National Institute for Trauma and Loss in Children. Paula is in the process of certifying her dog as an animal-assisted therapy dog to utilize in her practice. For more information on services provided, please visit her website at http://paulalopezlcsw.com.