What to Expect at Grief Counseling
There is nothing simple about navigating loss, and professional grief counseling can be a helpful step in your healing journey.
There is nothing easy – or simple – about processing and navigating the death of a loved one. You feel both emotional and physical effects, and the grief journey is long. It’s easy to feel confused or even guilty due to the wide range of emotions you experience. While there are many ways to cope, grief counseling is one positive way to do so. While it won’t be right for everyone, the following information will explain the process and experience more. You can determine whether it might be a helpful step in your personal journey toward healing.
What is Grief Counseling?
Also referred to as grief therapy, grief counseling is a specialized type of therapy specifically focused on helping you heal from the pain of losing a loved one. Sessions will vary, but they may touch on issues like helping you work through debilitating sadness interfering with your everyday life. They can help deal with any guilt you may be carrying or learning how to replace negative coping mechanisms with positive ones. It will help you stay mentally and physically healthy as you grieve.
Anyone can benefit from grief counseling: young or old, male or female, previous therapy experience, or newcomer. It’s also helpful regardless of who you have lost, be it a child, a spouse, a sibling, or a close friend. You should also note that grief counselors help people face different kinds of grief, such as divorce.
As with most things in grief, your counseling timeline will be unique to you and your needs. It is not usually viewed as a permanent treatment. The goal is to provide you tools to “help you help yourself” as you continue along your own grief journey. Part of this healing work will be learning about grief to be surprised by things you are thinking and feeling. Even though every person grieves a bit differently, your counselor can share commonalities of experience. That may also work to help you feel less alone in what you’re going through.
What Can You Expect at Grief Counseling Appointments?
If you have scheduled a one-on-one counseling session, you’ll be seated in a comfortable and calming room with your therapist. They may ask you questions or explain more about the counseling process. If you have chosen a group therapy session, you will be seated with others facing grief, and everyone will have an opportunity to share. However, you may remain silent if you wish. A counselor will lead the group discussion and encourage you to think about particular things or add new, positive coping mechanisms to your everyday life.
As your therapy sessions continue, you will also most likely work on three separate areas of your healing process:
1. Expressing Your Feelings (The Good, the Bad and the Ugly)
One of the main things you’ll learn in grief counseling is to express what you’re feeling – no matter what those emotions may be. This can be not easy if you’re not naturally expressive. Or if you are worried that your emotions are not “normal.” Rest assured, people, feel all sorts of different emotions while grieving. Talking about them in a safe space with a counselor is a healthy and important part of your healing process.
This step can look different depending upon your counselor’s style and your personal needs. You might be asked to write a letter to your deceased loved one to say what you’re feeling. Or you may even do an exercise where you speak to them as if they were sitting right next to you.
If you’re really struggling to get in touch with your feelings and share them openly, your counselor might assign you some exercises to do at home. For instance, they may encourage you to visit your loved one’s resting place or force yourself to look at old photos even if they make you feel sad.
2. Opening Yourself Up to the Future
Another important aspect of grief counseling is getting more comfortable with the idea of moving forward in your life without your special person by your side. Your counselor can help with this in several ways. For example, you may talk through exercises that help you see how you can incorporate your past with what may come in the future. You might also have discussions that give you insight into seeing your deceased loved one in a new light. Looking at them through a different lens can be useful as you see yourself as a person walking into a new phase of life.
As you open yourself up to future possibilities, this will mean meeting new people, too. Your grief counselor will work to help you feel open to forming new relationships, romantic or otherwise. Keeping your heart open to the future is a healthy step toward living with your grief without letting it control you.
3. Discovering Your Identity
As human beings, we all tend to view ourselves through our relationships with the people around us. When you love someone important to you, it can change the way you see yourself – or even cause you to lose sight of your own identity altogether. For example, if you have considered yourself a loving and devoted wife for many years and then your husband dies, your identity must change to evolve with who you are after losing that role.
This can be a tremendously difficult process. After all, we don’t like to think of ourselves without the people we love most. Oftentimes, your therapist will encourage you to give more energy to your remaining relationships so that you are more focused on building connections and identity and less focused on your loss (both of your loved one and of your identity that was tied to them). Developing a new sense of purpose in your life can also help you build your new identity, so your counselor may suggest volunteering as an element of your therapy, too.
Is Grief Counseling Right for You?
Grief affects us all differently, and many people do find relief and comfort through grief therapy. However, other people have an aversion to counseling and may prefer to grieve and heal in their own way. Rest assured, there is no right or wrong way to grieve. Whether you choose to pursue counseling in an individual setting or through a support group is a very personal decision.
As you navigate your grief, remember that it’s okay to need extra support. If you think grief counseling may help you process a difficult loss, reach out to a counselor today.