Throughout our lives, we all experience grief. Grief varies from person to person and situation to situation. However, it can cause a lot of emotional, mental, and physical duress. This is why many turn to a grief counselor for help.
You might feel sad, lost, confused, angry, or any other range of emotions that take away from your day-to-day life. However, it is the goal of grief counselors to be able to help you restore your peace of mind by moving with you through your grief.
What Is a Grief Counselor?
A grief counselor is a licensed counselor who helps individuals and families move through their grief. Reaching the acceptance stage of grief is sometimes difficult to achieve on one’s own, and that is where a grief counselor steps in to help.
Grief counselors have earned, at the very least, a Master’s degree in Psychology or Counseling. Many continue on to earn their PhDs or PsyDs. Oftentimes, grief counselors go through counseling themselves as a part of their educational training and have dealt with difficult losses in their own lives.
Grief counseling can take place in any number of settings. Hospitals, funeral homes, and mental health clinics often employ or recommend grief counselors. Local law enforcement often works with volunteers who assist them in delivering death notifications. Therefore, these volunteers come equipped with resources to help loved ones get in touch with grief counselors. If there has been a tragic loss in a school or place of work, grief counselors are sometimes called in to assist in the emotional processing of the loss.
Symptoms of Grief
Grief manifests differently in everybody, although there are some commonalities. As outlined by the late psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, grief generally occurs in five non-linear stages:
- Isolation and Denial: Denying the reality of the loss of a loved one or isolating oneself from loved ones in the aftermath of loss.
- Anger: When confronted by the reality of a loss, oftentimes, anger sets in. You might feel angry with yourself, your loved one, other people in your life, a religious deity, or any other entity you associate with the loss.
- Bargaining: When you feel out-of-control and even hopeless in the aftermath of a difficult loss, you might find yourself resorting to bargaining. You might even try to make a deal with a religious deity to reunite you with your lost loved one or thing.
- Depression: Most people feel a strong sense of sorrow and/or regret. Others might not feel such a deep depression. They might experience a more somber form of it while preparing to bid farewell to a loved one.
- Acceptance: This is the stage where you have processed the loss, moved through the most difficult emotions, and have accepted the reality of the situation.
When dealing with loved ones going through grief, it is important to offer support and keep an eye out for more severe symptoms of grief, such as suicidal ideas or substance abuse.
Causes of Grief
Almost any type of loss can cause feelings of grief to arise. Death is the most obvious circumstance, and it is not just human deaths that we grieve, but the losses of beloved pets or other animals we care about.
People can also experience grief over the loss of:
- Employment – Especially if it is an enjoyable and fulfilling job;
- Health – For example, finding out you have cancer or dealing with increasing amounts of fibromyalgia pain every day;
- A beloved home or vehicle.
Grief can be overwhelming, especially when you are coping with a sudden and unexpected loss. It is important to remember that the cause of someone else’s grief might not cause grief for you. Consequently, something that causes grief for you might not cause any for someone else.
Other Issues Related to Grief
Grief doesn’t just occur only after a loss. In fact, it can occur before the loss even happens. If you know that your loved one is going to pass away due to terminal cancer, you will likely experience preparatory grief before your loved one dies. You can move through any or all of the five stages of grief in this period, or you might only move through one or two of them.
Sometimes, it is difficult to be aware that you are even dealing with grief. Those with chronic illnesses do not always realize that the emotions they experience are those of grief and loss. You might experience what is called a network of losses. This can include the loss of career, self-control, and sense of personal freedom.
Grief Treatment Options
When all might seem hopeless, a grief counselor is there to restore hope and aims to bring their clients to the acceptance stage of grief. There are many different approaches a grief counselor can take with their clients. One of the more popular methods is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT).
Unlike some mindfulness methods which try to get you through the grief, ACT’s goals are to:
- Accept the feelings of loss and being overwhelmed;
- Ground yourself and realign with your beliefs and values;
- Develop more compassionate care for yourself;
- Weed out unhelpful stories and sentimental expressions from others;
- Build appreciation for what you still have.
Grief counselors tend to work predominantly with adults. But some counselors specialize in working with children who are experiencing difficult losses.
Grief Counseling in Popular Culture
Fans of the hit TV show The Office might recall an episode entitled Grief Counseling. In this episode, Michael Scott learns that his former boss has died. He gathers the staff together, and they hold their own amateur grief counseling session, where Michael is able to start processing the sudden loss.
While the scenario is depicted in a comedic way, it serves as a reminder that not everyone grieves the same way (as the staff was not as affected as Michael) and that coming together to help one another can be helpful.
If you are experiencing grief from a difficult loss, do not feel ashamed to reach out for help. A grief counselor is there to listen to you and provide support and insight.
There is no time frame or right way to grieve. But if you are starting to feel lost, hopeless, or confused, know that a grief counselor is just a phone call or e-mail away.