Everyone experiences loss and the grief that comes afterward. As long as you feel love and care for someone or something, loss and grief remain an inevitable part of your life.
There is neither a right nor wrong way to grieve. Each person grieves differently and copes with the emotion and the events that brought it about in their own way.
Some people may handle grief well. However, many people struggle with grief, resulting in a disruption in their daily life, a dip in their mental health, and even potentially harmful ways of coping.
Having a deeper understanding of what exactly grief is can help you process the feelings brought on by the loss you experienced in a better, more productive way.
What Is Grief?
Grief is an overwhelming emotion. It is our natural response to loss, particularly the loss of a loved one. It is more than just sadness — grief evokes a mix of feelings, including anger, doubt, confusion, hurt, and more.
Although the death of a loved one is a primary source of grief, it is not the only one. Grief can also stem from other situations and experiences, such as:
- A terminal diagnosis, whether it’s your own or a loved one’s.
- The end of a long-term or important relationship, such as divorce.
- The loss of a job.
- Loss of independence through an accident or disability.
- Theft of a highly personal or valuable keepsake.
There is no single way to grieve. Although grief is a universal experience, it is also highly personal. Grieving and mourning a loss varies for each person.
Different Types of Grief
There are several types of grief recognized by mental health professionals. Depending on the type of grief you may experience, the signs and symptoms you manifest may be different.
Below are some of the common types of grief:
- Normal Grief – According to the American Psychology Association, normal grief is defined as grief that generally lasts between six months and two years. It is often brought about by significant loss.
- Complicated or Prolonged Grief – This type of grief is also known as persistent complex bereavement disorder. Compared to normal grief, complicated grief induces more debilitating feelings of loss. More importantly, these painful emotions do not improve even after time has passed. The emotions are so severe that it leads to difficulties returning to your normal routine and socializing with others.
- Absent Grief – Absent grief typically happens as a result of sudden loss. As its name suggests, symptoms of this type of grief are much more subtle and primarily marked by denial and shock. In some cases, the person suffering from absent grief may be completely unaware of their condition. If not addressed properly or in a timely manner, absent grief may continue for an extended period.
- Anticipatory Grief – Unlike most types of grief, which are due to a loss that has already happened, anticipatory grief is the grief you feel in expectation of a coming loss. This is the type of grief you’d feel over an impending layoff, a divorce or relationship ending, or a terminal illness diagnosis.
- Delayed Grief – Grief may not always happen immediately after a major loss. Delayed grief happens a long time after the event or loss that triggered it. Extreme, overwhelming shock may lead to your grief manifesting after months or years have passed. Even if you do not seem to be grieving initially or even if you seem to have been starting to heal already, you may still be hit with feelings of loss and grief.
Five Stages of Grief
Although there are many types of grief you may experience, the stages we go through as we process the emotion and loss remains the same. According to Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, we go through five stages as a reaction to grief, namely: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
These five stages are how we cope with our grief and process the changes it brings — it is how we adapt to our new reality. Some types of grief may cause you to cycle or go through the five stages faster.
Similar to how grieving is a highly personal experience, how the five stages of grief manifest are different for each person. The process of grieving will always be unique to each individual.
There are similar or consistent elements for each stage, which allows you to identify which stage you are in currently.
Here’s what each stage of grief can look and feel like:
- Denial – Signs include avoidance, procrastination, mindless behaviors, distractibility, always keeping busy, and insistence on feeling fine. This stage is often filled with feelings of shock, confusion, and numbness.
- Anger – This stage can manifest in behaviors like pessimism, cynicism, sarcasm, irritability, passive-aggressiveness or just aggressiveness, and even substance usage. Feelings of frustration, resentment, rage, and impatience often abound in this stage.
- Bargaining – During this stage, you may start to overthink and worry, particularly looking back on the past or ruminating over the future. You may display signs of perfectionism and fatalism, often thinking of what you should have done and showing guilt, shame, or insecurity.
- Depression – Symptoms of depression include sleep problems, changes in appetite, low energy, low social interest, reduced motivation, and worsening substance use. Feelings of sadness, helplessness, and despair often abound.
- Acceptance – Signs of reaching this stage include being present in the moment, more mindful behaviors, better engagement with reality as it is, and the ability to be vulnerable while also displaying assertiveness and honest communication.
What Is Grief Counseling?
Facing grief is a harrowing experience. Coming to terms with the loss while continuing with your daily life can sometimes be too much to bear.
Just as there are harmful ways to cope with loss and grief, there are also better, healthier ways to come to terms with the emotion. One such way is through grief counseling.
Grief counseling is a form of therapy. Also known as bereavement counseling, it is designed specifically to help you and others work through the different stages of grief and the emotions that come with them.
Talking to a professional helps give you a way to better process, accept, and adapt to your new reality. A grief counselor or therapist helps you develop strategies and methods to cope with your loss and grief in a healthier, more productive manner.
More importantly, grief counseling offers you a safe space to help you process your emotions. It is a time and place where you can work through your emotions without fearing judgment and instead expect helpful advice and understanding.
One of the main components of grief or bereavement counseling is learning what you can expect from grief. Your counselor outlines the different stages of grief and the emotions you may go through.
The primary objectives of grief counseling include:
- Acceptance of the reality of loss, or getting over the denial stage.
- Working through the pain, or managing grief instead of suppressing it.
- Adjusting to regular life while still grieving.
- Maintaining a connection to what or whom you lost, rather than only focusing on painful emotions.
Types of Grief Counseling
Grief counseling can be done either individually or in a group setting.
- Individual grief therapy – Individual grief therapy is between just you and your therapist or counselor. This type of therapy is best if you need time-intensive sessions. Moreover, such sessions allow the counselor to focus exclusively on your individual needs. The intimate settings of individual therapy are conducive to touching on other pain points or life issues that you may not want others to know about but affect your grieving process.
- Group grief therapy – Group grief therapy is ideal if you seek other people in similar situations. It allows you to learn from others’ experiences. It is great if you are looking to build a social support system outside of your friends and loved ones. Group therapy sessions are helpful for strengthening not just your socialization skills, but also your patience, listening skills, and receiving constructive feedback. Additionally, group grief counseling is ideal for people who have isolated themselves during their grieving process. It offers a safe way for you to slowly integrate yourself with others and relearn how to interact in social settings.
Common Techniques Used
Over the years, there have been numerous techniques developed and used to help facilitate better processing of grief and loss. Some of the common techniques used in grief counseling include:
- Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) – This therapy technique incorporates mindfulness practices to guide you towards accepting the events that happened, including your negative thoughts and feelings, and committing to positive action aligned with your personal values.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) – This involves reframing your way of thinking, particularly negative or unhelpful thought patterns, and reevaluating your responses to the situation.
- Complicated grief treatment (CGT) – This technique uses a combination of targeted psychotherapy and medications or antidepressants to help you understand grief, manage overwhelming emotions, and learn to live with the loss.
- Ritual-focused counseling – This technique incorporates activities like writing goodbye letters, conducting farewell ceremonies, or acting out conversations with the deceased.
- Narrative therapy or talk therapy – This involves talking about your personal experiences and guiding you towards reassessing your situation.
- Mindfulness practices – This includes meditation, breathing exercises, journaling, and positive mantras.
Does Grief Counseling Work?
No matter how hard or harrowing experience grief may be, it is still possible to overcome it and recover from a loss. For many people, grief counseling is a large part of what helps them cope and return to regular life.
Some of the benefits of grief counseling include:
- Reduces anxiety and risk of depression
- Helps manage feelings of guilt
- Helps improve understanding of the grieving process
- Offers avenues for you to honor the deceased without inducing greater trauma
While grief counseling is effective, it is not a miracle cure. It doesn’t erase the hurt or feelings of loss — it only helps you understand, accept, and manage these emotions better.
Grief counseling helps normalize the feelings and emotions surrounding loss, as well as the experience of losing a loved one or death itself.
In short, grief or bereavement counseling helps you adjust to the new reality of your life. It helps you learn how to live a meaningful life, despite the loss of a loved one.
Is It Covered By Health Insurance?
If you are struggling with grief, one reason that may turn you away from getting the grief counseling you need is the cost. Instead of focusing on your recovery, it may only add to your worries and further bring down your mental health.
But having insurance coverage — whether it’s through your employer, the federal government, or purchased through the state marketplaces, makes everything easier to bear financially.
In most cases, mental health services covered by health insurance plans cover grief counseling and therapy sessions, including group therapy visits. This is true for both private and federal insurance plans.
As per the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act passed in 2008, insurance coverage for mental health and substance use services must be comparable to or equal to coverage for physical health services.
Under the law, also known as the mental health parity or federal parity law, insurance companies cannot charge more for doctor’s visits to a mental health professional if they charge much less for regular medical doctor’s visits.
However, the level of coverage will depend on the coverage plan you get, as well as the insurance provider you choose. In some cases, you may have to pay a deductible before the services are covered. In other cases, there may also be copays and coinsurance applicable.
Moreover, insurance providers typically cover counseling and therapy sessions if they are “medically necessary.” Due to this, you may need to provide an official diagnosis indicating your mental health condition before your private insurance provider pays the claims.
If you are under Medicare, different parts of the program will cover your mental health services based on the type of care you receive.
Outpatient mental health services, which include grief counseling and individual or group psychotherapy, are covered under Medicare Part B. However, the program only covers up to 80% of the costs.
If you choose to check into a facility and receive counseling as part of inpatient mental health care, this will be covered by Medicare Part A.
How To Begin Grief Counseling
There are several ways to get started on grief counseling, but the first step is always admitting your problem. Recognizing you need help and making the decision to consult a counselor is a huge step toward the right direction — your recovery.
There is no need to wait for your situation or mental health to further deteriorate. You don’t need to have severe levels of grief to “qualify” for grief counseling. If you have experienced loss and feel you need help processing the events and your emotions, there’s nothing stopping you from seeking professional help.