What is Grief?
Grief is a strong, emotional, and natural reaction to a significant loss. People who are grieving may feel overwhelmed by sadness or loneliness. In many cases, grief is a healthy emotion and does not indicate a mental disorder. Types of loss that can create grief include:
- Death of a loved one
- Terminal diagnosis
- Natural disaster
- Job loss
- End of a relationship
- Loss of an ability
The loss itself can leave people feeling out-of-control of their lives. In reaction, they try to control the grieving process. Learning more about these feelings can help people move through the stages of grief with less distress.
5 Stages of Grief
Anticipating the stages of grief can help people understand their feelings and cope. Generally, professionals recognize five stages of grief:
Denial: This stage starts as soon as a person learns of the loss. People may experience shock or feel completely numb. Denial helps people defend themselves against the flood of emotions they may have, which can be too much to handle all at once.
Anger: Frustration is a natural way to deal with the reality of the loss as denial fades away. People may feel helpless, which ultimately leads to anger. Some grieving individuals try to find someone to blame for their loss. Others blame a higher power.
Bargaining: People in this stage of grief grasp for things they could have done differently, even if the loss was unavoidable. “What if” statements fill their minds.
Depression: Once it becomes clear that there is no changing what happened, people are only left with the sadness and loneliness of a loss. People in this stage may cry often, struggle with sleeping too much or too little, or even have difficulty eating.
Acceptance: This stage doesn’t mean the person has “gotten over” the loss they face. Instead, people in the final stage of grief learn to live with the reality of what happened.
While the general trajectory of grief tends to go in the order listed above, people sometimes find themselves going back and forth between a few stages before moving forward.
How Long Does Grief Last?
There’s no timetable for how long grief lasts. Its impact on a person can depend on the loss itself and how much help they receive in their journey.
In some cases, people cannot move through the stages of grief on their own. Mental health professionals call this “complicated grief,” which may need professional attention. Signs of this type of grief include:
- Symptoms of clinical depression
- Suicidal or self-harming thoughts
- Blaming oneself
- Difficulty living daily life, such as skipping work or staying in bed all day
How to Overcome Grief
Although grief is natural, it can feel overwhelming and impossible to see past. Some people with pain do not want to move through the stages; they see it as an insult to the person or relationship they lost.
It’s crucial to remember that overcoming grief does not mean “getting over” the loss, stopping thoughts of the loss, or even the lack of sadness. Instead, people should strive to overcome grief so that they can live with the loss.
For example, someone may never feel completely OK with the death of a loved one. Some sadness will always linger, and the memories of that person last forever. However, when a person gets to acceptance, they can honor those memories while being open to creating new ones. The following types of treatments can help people get to this point with their grief.
Individual Grief Counseling
In the aftermath of a loss, therapists and counselors can help people process their grief. With individual grief counseling, clients spend one-on-one time with professionals discussing their feelings. The therapist guides the client through this challenging time and watches for any signs that the grief turns into something more.
Counselors can also give grieving people healthy coping mechanisms. Furthermore, patients gain the reassurance that each stage of grief is healthy and that they will get through the hardest parts. Just having someone to talk to who isn’t also affected by the loss can help people process these complicated feelings as well.
Group Grief Counseling
Group counseling for grief helps people going through similar feelings connect. Under the guidance of a mental health professional, grieving people share their stories, talk about their feelings, and support one another. Meetings may occur every month, week, or day.
As with individual counseling, people who share in grief groups benefit from talking about their feelings. Furthermore, the sense of connection keeps the loneliness of grief at bay. Counselors also share ideas and coping tips with the group when it is appropriate to do so.
Grief Counseling for Children
Children may understand less about a loss than their parents and thus process grief in different ways. Specialized counselors can help children understand what happened, talk about their feelings, and cope with the negative effects of grief.
Therapists allow children to talk about death or loss in a way that makes sense to them. They also include the parents in sessions. Parents help ensure that the family’s religious beliefs remain respected.
Furthermore, the counselor can teach parents how to help the child grieve at home between sessions. For example, therapists may advise parents to:
- Talk about their own emotions in front of their children
- Keep the line of communication open about the loss
- Make space for bursts of anger or sadness from their children
Grief Counseling for Teenagers
Although teenagers understand more about death and loss than their younger counterparts, they do not have the fully developed brains that adults have. This leads them to experience loss differently than other people.
Parents can help teenagers grieve with these tips:
- Acknowledge their feelings, even if they differ from your own
- Give them space to grieve in different ways than you might
- Look out for signs that they need professional help, such as suicidal thoughts or pervasive depression
- Talk with teachers and school counselors to get on the same page
- Continue to communicate about the loss as often as they need it