Whether you have just lost a loved one, witnessed the end of a long-standing relationship, lost a dream opportunity, or anything else that has left you grieving, you may be wondering if grief therapy would be a good step for you. While everyone is different and requires different steps and processes to manage their grief, therapy can be an excellent option to not only navigate these options but also better process your feelings and grief in a safe and non-judgmental space.
So, what exactly is grief therapy, and what makes it different from other therapies? Unlike many other therapies, grief therapy is typically a temporary therapy that simply spans as long as you are grieving the loss. The length of this period will be different for each person, but the aim of grief therapy is to help you learn more about the grieving process, work through your feelings, and help you to move forward with your life.
The Stages of Grieving
Maybe you’ve heard of the stages of grief before, or perhaps you remember that episode in the Simpsons where Homer comically goes through the stages of grief in just 15 seconds. Unfortunately, for the majority of us, the stages of grief last much longer than three seconds each.
If you have not heard of the five stages of grief before, they come from Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ book On Death and Dying. This book was first published in 1969, but the five stages of grief that she proposed in her book have continued to be referenced throughout the years — in both clinical settings as well as popular pieces of media, such as House and Grey’s Anatomy.
But what exactly are these five stages of grief? Here we’re going to dive briefly into each.
The first stage of grief is denial. Now, typically for people, this stage comes in the form of not fully registering the pain of losing a loved one or anything else that you are grieving. This level of denial is actually perfectly healthy — it gets unhealthy if you are trying to convince yourself that the event (be it death, injury, or another event) did not happen.
The second stage of grief is anger. Anger is pain’s best friend — which, unfortunately for us, means that when we feel pain, we’re likely going to find something to blame it on. Whether we blame ourselves, the cause of the death or end of a relationship, the person who has died or left the relationship, yourself, or the universe or god of your faith, anger allows us to feel something other than just hurt.
Managing this anger in productive ways — such as exercise, talking with a therapist or loved ones, mindfulness practices, or screaming into a pillow — is the key to making it through this stage of grief.
Once you’ve made it through the denial and anger, you’re likely going to spend a lot of time humoring countless “what if” or “if only” thoughts. This is called the bargaining stage. This stage is where you focus on your regrets — maybe what you did or did not do before your loved one died, a relationship ended, or whatever event you are grieving happened.
We have these thoughts because we are trying to distract ourselves or push away the pain we feel.
The fourth stage of grief is depression. Many people refer to this stage as the quiet stage of grief. This is when you are really hit with a deep sadness for your loss. At this time, you may or may not be experiencing clinical depression — this takes a professional diagnosis to determine — but you are likely feeling consumed or even overwhelmed by sadness because of the loss.
This is also the time when you may feel like isolating yourself from your loved ones or even feeling uninterested in hobbies and things that you usually enjoy.
The final stage of grief is acceptance. This is when you reach the point where you recognize and accept what happened — you accept the loss and recognize how it has impacted your life. It is important to note that the acceptance stage does not mean that you are completely over your loss and you are okay with your loved one passing or a relationship ending. It does, however, mean that you have accepted the reality you live in and where your life is now
It is important to keep in mind that while these five stages of grief are the ones that typically get recognized, they are not the only feelings or stages you may have in your own grieving process. They are, however, a great starting point for anyone who is wondering what may lie ahead for them as they navigate through their grief.
How Can Therapy Help?
Not that you are more familiar with the stages of grief, but you may be wondering how exactly grief therapy can help you navigate through your grief. We touched on the purpose of grief therapy at the very beginning of this piece, but here we’re going to dive more in-depth into what you can expect to do in grief therapy.
There are a lot of feelings that come with grief. As if this wasn’t challenging enough, people all process these feelings in different ways. This is why you and your sibling may not be grieving the death of your parents in the same way.
Talking with a therapist can be a great way for you to better assess and process your feelings in a safe space. Your therapist can also help you to identify and understand healthy coping mechanisms to help you navigate through the emotions you are feeling at the various stages of your grieving process.
Grieving can be a draining experience, and you may find yourself wondering whether or not getting close to another person is even worth it in the end. When we lose someone we love, we can become closed off to the idea of new relationships and even distance ourselves from our current relationships to attempt to preemptively spare ourselves from pain in the future.
This is, unfortunately, not a good solution because we are social creatures by nature, and isolating ourselves from others can lead to even more pain. Grief therapy can help you to view your relationship through a different lens and keep you open to new relationships in your life.
Redefining Your Identity
Typically, we identify ourselves based on the relationships we have with others. When these relationships change — for example, when we lose someone we were close to — the way we view ourselves is also bound to change. Because of this, grief therapy works to help redefine or find a new identity for yourself and understand how the loss has affected your previous identity.
Grief therapy can be an excellent tool for anyone who is grieving a loss. Speaking with a professional therapist can be a great way to ensure that you are navigating through your feelings in a healthy and productive way. Additionally, grief therapy can be an excellent way to build skills and techniques that you can employ throughout your life when you are grieving other losses. So, if you are considering seeking grief therapy for a recent loss, please do not hesitate to reach out to us at Love Heal Grow.