Understanding Grief

It is hard for many to put grief into words. Simply put, grief is a significant emotional and normal reaction to significant trauma, such as the loss of a loved one. Grief is a regular part of the human experience and does not necessarily define someone as having a mental disorder. Experiences that can cause grief include:

  • Terminal health diagnoses
  • Significant natural disasters such as floods or tornados
  • Loss of employment
  • Divorce or separation
  • The loss of a prized skill

Loss often leaves people feeling out of control and people respond by trying to force control on the process of grieving. It is important for those experiencing grief to understand how grief works and let the process proceed as it needs to. 

The Stages of Grief

Most mental health professionals define grief as having five stages. Understanding these stages can help patients understand what they are going through.  

Denial: Denial is the first natural stage of grief. It occurs in the immediate aftermath of an event and works to protect the individual from the flood of emotions caused by the trigger. 

Anger: As the denial ebbs away, people typically segue into anger. Anger is the result of frustration at the loss of control caused by the inciting incident. 

Bargaining: In this stage, individuals run through hypotheticals, holding themselves to task for what they think they could have done differently.

Depression: Once anger and bargaining has no effect, those experiencing grief can slip into depression as they begin to realize the finality of an event. 

Acceptance: Many misconstrue acceptance as getting over something. What this stage is more about is learning new tools for coping with a new reality. 

“Complicated Grief”

For some, moving through the stages of grief is very complex and takes time. They are also not able to manage things on their own, oftentimes. In these situations, consulting with a mental health professional can be important. Symptoms of this type of grief can include:  

  • Demonstrating clinical depression symptoms
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Guilt and self-blame over inciting event
  • Inability to conduct daily tasks or maintain a quality of life

Overcoming Grief

Overcoming grief is difficult for many. Individuals can see the process of moving through grief as moving past an important event, for example, or forgetting a person.  Overcoming grief is not about “getting over” a person or situation; it is about learning to live with loss in a new emotional reality. 

Working with a therapist or counselor is the most effective way to deal with grief. The following are some of the therapies available to those experiencing grief. 

Individual Therapy

In individual therapy, a person works one on one with a therapist to address their feelings during the grieving process. The therapist teaches the individual how to identify signs of grief and implement coping mechanisms. Individual therapy can also provide an objective and safe space where the individual can discuss the situation with someone who was not affected by the situation personally.

Group Therapy

Group counseling creates an environment in which those experiencing grief can hear and learn from the experiences of others in the same situation. A mental health professional guides the conversation, helping to ensure an environment of support and constructive discussion. A counselor will also provide tips as needed to the group on how they can cope with grief. 

Therapy for Children

Grief can be difficult for children. Children may not understand what has happened when someone dies or a traumatic event occurs. Counselors and therapists who specialize in working with children can help them work through their grief and trauma and develop tools. Therapists will include parents in their efforts and work to ensure that a family’s personal beliefs or faith are respected during the process. 

Therapy for Teenagers

Adolescents may be more aware of death than small children, but they are still developing from an emotional and neurological perspective. It is important for teenagers experiencing grief to get help from a professional who is trained in working with adolescents. The position of adolescents between the worlds of adulthood and childhood make grief a unique experience for them.  Working with a counselor provides teenagers with a safe space in which to process and experience their grief.