Key Takeaways Key Takeaways
  • The traditional notion of “being strong” during times of grief can be harmful and counterproductive.

  • Grief Counseling offers a comprehensive approach to handling loss, using various techniques like Group Therapy, Art and Music Therapy, and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).

  • The stigmatization of grief began as societies grew larger and more diverse, moving away from communal support systems.

“Being Strong” is Out – Grief Counseling is Here to Stay

Roughly 2.5 million people die in the United States annually, each leaving an average of five grieving people behind. Grief also affects people of all ages. It is estimated 1.5 million children (5% of children in the United States) have lost one or both parents by age 15.

In a society that often praises stoicism and “being strong,” the importance of processing emotions, particularly grief, has been underestimated. However, the tide is changing. The perception of Grief Counseling or Bereavement Counseling has evolved to become an essential part of emotional and mental well-being. In some states such as California, state law guarantees most employees up to five days of bereavement leave from work following the death of a family member.

What is Grief Counseling?

So, what is Grief Counseling exactly, and how can it support you or your loved ones through difficult times?

Grief Counseling is a specialized form of Psychotherapy aimed at supporting individuals in coping with the emotional, psychological, and sometimes physical aspects of loss. Whether you’re dealing with the death of a loved one, a breakup, job loss, or any other life-altering event, Grief Counseling offers a safe space to explore your feelings and develop coping mechanisms. Unlike conventional therapy, which may address a broad range of issues, Grief Counseling is tailored specifically to the nuances of loss and how it affects you personally.

The Grief Therapy process typically begins with an assessment to understand the stage and type of grief you are experiencing. After the initial assessment, the therapist will work closely with you to identify objectives and goals for the counseling sessions. Techniques can range from cognitive behavioral strategies to more narrative or expressive therapies, depending on your needs and comfort level.

Grief Counseling or Bereavement Counseling provides a supportive environment where you can share your thoughts freely without fear of judgment, enabling a deeper emotional and cognitive understanding of your loss. Therapists may employ various therapeutic models to facilitate this understanding, such as the Dual Process Model, which balances the experience of loss-oriented and restoration-oriented activities. This strives to help you not only come to terms with the loss but also rebuild a life around it.

Grief Counseling is increasingly recognized for its potential to guide individuals through their emotional journey and assist them in finding a path toward healing.

Through Grief Counseling, you also gain valuable tools for handling the ancillary challenges that often accompany a significant loss. This might include managing feelings of guilt or anger, resolving unfinished business, and finding a way to honor and continue bonds with the person or situation you have lost. For those in need, Group Therapy options are also available, offering peer support in addition to professional guidance.

What are the Goals of Grief Counseling?

The primary objective of Grief Counseling is to equip individuals with the tools and coping strategies they need to navigate through their grief and loss effectively. While it’s natural to feel overwhelmed and even paralyzed by grief, the goal is not to hasten the grieving process but to facilitate a healthier, more constructive way of handling it. Delaying or suppressing the emotional upheaval that accompanies loss often compounds the emotional and psychological toll it takes on a person.

One key area that Grief Counseling addresses is the rebuilding of routine and structure after a traumatic or unfortunate event. Loss can disrupt your daily life, making even mundane tasks seem insurmountable. Counseling helps you set realistic goals—be they emotional, functional, or even logistical—to slowly reintegrate elements of normality and predictability into your life. This could range from resuming social activities to returning to work or simply maintaining a regular daily schedule.

Grief Counseling is not exclusively for adults: It is equally beneficial for children who have experienced loss. Kids, like adults, need a safe space to express their feelings and understand the complexities of grief. Age-appropriate therapy techniques are used to help children articulate their emotions and cope with the changes in their lives, such as the loss of a family member or a pet, or even a close friend moving away. Therapists work closely with children to help them understand that it’s okay to feel sad, angry, or even confused and provide them with coping strategies appropriate for their developmental level.

What Does Grief Counseling Look Like?

The structure and methodology of Grief Counseling can vary depending on individual needs, the counselor’s approach, and the available resources. Here are some of the most common types of therapeutic techniques used in grief counseling:

Group Therapy

In Group Therapy, individuals who are going through similar experiences come together to share and support one another under the guidance of a trained facilitator. This setting provides a sense of community and belonging, alleviating the isolating feelings that often accompany grief. Grief support group sessions offer a platform for sharing coping strategies, discussing challenges, and providing emotional support. The experience of knowing that you’re not alone can be extraordinarily healing. If you’re interested in Group Therapy, LifeStance providers are experienced and can help facilitate.

Movement/Music/Art Therapy

Expressive Therapies like Movement, Music, or Art Therapy offer alternative routes to explore and process grief. These non-verbal forms of Therapy can be particularly effective when words fail to capture the complexity of what you’re feeling. For example, painting or drawing might allow you to externalize your grief, making it easier to confront and manage.

Similarly, Music Therapy might use the emotional power of songs to help you articulate and process your feelings. According to Jae Swanson, a trauma-informed Licensed Professional Counselor and Board-Certified Music Therapist, dedicating a song to a family member after they pass away is something that they do with the patients during legacy work. Movement Therapy, like dance or yoga, engages the body to help release stored emotional tension.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT is a more structured form of therapy that aims to identify and change problematic thought patterns and behaviors. While grief itself is a normal reaction to loss, certain ways of thinking can exacerbate the pain and make it harder to move forward. CBT helps you recognize negative thoughts and teaches you how to change them, which can improve your actions and emotions.

Each of these methods has its unique advantages, and often a combination of approaches yields the best outcomes. Your therapist will work with you to tailor a plan that suits your individual needs, drawing from one or more of these therapies to create a holistic treatment plan.

A Glance at Grief in Different Cultures and Religions

Everyone feels grief, but culture and religion influence how we deal with it. Understanding these variations is not only fascinating but also essential for creating more inclusive and effective Grief Counseling practices.

For example, in Judaism, the mourning tradition of “Sitting Shiva” encourages a healthy approach to grief by rejecting the notion of “being strong.” Instead, it recognizes the importance of allowing oneself to fully experience and express the emotions associated with loss. By creating a structured environment for mourning, Shiva acknowledges that grief is a natural and necessary part of the healing process. It grants mourners permission to be vulnerable, to cry, to share stories, and to lean on their community for support. This approach fosters a more authentic and complete grieving process, ultimately helping individuals process their emotions in a healthy and healing way, rather than suppressing them in the name of strength.

In Caribbean cultures, particularly those influenced by African traditions, the “nine nights” is a mourning practice that extends for over a week after the death. During this time, family and friends gather to sing, dance, and share food, effectively turning the mourning period into a celebration of life. It’s a community-driven approach that focuses on collective healing rather than individual sorrow.

When and How Did Grief Get Stigmatized?

The process of grieving hasn’t always been stigmatized. In fact, in most ancient cultures and smaller communities, death, loss, and grief were considered natural parts of life that warranted communal support and understanding. The act of mourning was seen as an essential passage for both the deceased and those left behind, and communities would come together to share in the grieving process.

However, the perception of grief began to change as societies evolved into larger, more complex, and more diverse entities. This diversification sometimes led to less community cohesion and a decreased focus on collective rituals and more on individualistic pursuits. Grieving in modern times has become more private and focused on family and friends. This shift away from it being a community event is due to the rise of the modern age and industrialization.

Moreover, in a fast-paced, productivity-driven society, taking the time to grieve can be seen as a weakness or a luxury that many cannot afford. The shift from community-centered lives to individualistic lifestyles has contributed to the stigmatization of grief. In such a setting, emotionally intense processes like grieving are often pathologized, requiring clinical intervention rather than community support.

There is also the impact of globalization and the mixing of various cultures and beliefs. While this diversity can be enriching, it can also lead to misunderstandings or minimization of individual mourning practices and rituals. The dilution of cultural norms around grieving contributes to the stigma, as people may not feel that there is a “right” or socially acceptable way to express their grief.

Fortunately, the increasing recognition of the importance of Mental Health is slowly chipping away at this stigma. As more people become educated about the natural and necessary process of grieving, there’s hope that societal attitudes will shift back toward a more understanding and communal approach to dealing with loss.

Why You Shouldn’t “Be Strong” When Grieving

The phrase “be strong” is often heard at funerals, memorial services, or during times of loss. While usually well-intended, these words can perpetuate the harmful notion that strength is equated with emotional suppression or denial. In fact, failing to fully acknowledge and process feelings like grief and sadness can lead to long-term psychological issues and emotional detachment.

It’s a common misconception that strength in the face of loss means not showing emotion. This notion may stem from cultural or societal beliefs that equate emotional expression with weakness. However, the irony is that it takes immense strength to face your emotions head-on and to allow yourself the vulnerability to grieve openly and seek support from others. Emotional suppression can lead to both physical and psychological health problems, including increased Stress, Anxiety, Depression, and even cardiovascular issues.

Unresolved grief can manifest in various disruptive ways, such as mood swings, sleep problems, and impaired cognitive functions. Emotional detachment is a common byproduct of suppressed grief, making it difficult to form or maintain close relationships. The isolating impact of unprocessed grief is not just a private battle; it also prevents communities from coming together to heal as a collective.

Ask for Help

If you or someone you know is struggling with grief, don’t hesitate to seek professional help. LifeStance provides a range of mental health care services to guide you through this difficult time.

Authored By 

LifeStance Health
LifeStance Health

LifeStance is a mental healthcare company focused on providing evidence-based, medically driven treatment services for children, adolescents, and adults suffering from a variety of mental health issues in an outpatient care setting, both in-person and through its digital health telemedicine offering.

Reviewed By

Nicholette Leanza, LPCC-S
Nicholette Leanza, LPCC-S

Nicholette is a faculty member at John Carroll University’s Clinical Counseling program, and she is also the host of the LifeStance podcast, Convos from the Couch.