Grief counseling is counseling or therapy for people who are grieving. Grief is a person’s normal, healthy response to a loss. Not everyone who is grieving needs counseling. But it can help some people get through the process. It can also help people who are having trouble dealing with their emotions about the loss.

Grief counseling is usually done with a mental health professional or behavioral health professional. This could be a clinical social worker, licensed counselor, or psychologist. These trained experts understand the grief process. They can offer you specific support and suggestions. They can help you understand why it’s hard for you to cope with your loss. You can meet with a counselor in one-on-one or group therapy sessions.

Many patients will look to a trusted figure in their lives, such as a pastor, priest, or rabbi, for counseling. If you start there and you feel like you need more help, talk to your family doctor about other options. He or she can refer you to a professional therapist and even discuss medicines that may help your symptoms.

Path to improved well being

It’s normal to feel sad after a loss. But the feelings that come with grief should be temporary. If you experience any of the following symptoms over time, grief counseling may help you.

  • You don’t start to feel better as time passes.
  • You have ongoing difficulty with eating or sleeping.
  • Your feelings begin to disrupt your daily life.
  • You have trouble carrying out normal routines.
  • You withdraw from social activities.
  • You rely on drugs or alcohol to cope.
  • You feel guilty or worthless.
  • You start to think about hurting yourself or others.

Ask your family doctor if grief counseling would be helpful for you. He or she can help you find the support you need. A local mental health center, hospital, or hospice also can offer help.

You and your counselor can explore the emotions you have about your loss. Those emotions could include sadness, anger, anxiety, numbness, or fear. Talking about your feelings helps you move through them. That way, you won’t get stuck in your grief. With time, you’ll be able to return to a normal life.

Counseling can also help you learn coping skills. These allow you to function better and not get overwhelmed by your emotions.

Everyone grieves differently. Some people may be able to work through their grief on their own, or by talking to family and friends. Some attend support groups or seek help from a grief counselor. Others could develop depression or experience a more complicated grieving process. They might need help from a doctor or counselor.

Things to consider

Some people develop a condition called complicated grief. Their feelings of loss are very severe or long-lasting. They usually can’t process their grief without help.

Common types of complicated grief include:

Chronic – Intense grief symptoms don’t improve over time.

Exaggerated – Grief reactions are excessive and consuming.

Delayed – Reactions aren’t experienced until months or years after the loss.

Masked – Symptoms seem unrelated to the loss. They can include physical symptoms such as illness, or behaviors such as self-harm or substance abuse.

If you are experiencing any of these types of symptoms, see your family doctor.

Grief can lead to severe symptoms of depression, including thoughts of suicide. If you are thinking about hurting yourself or others, get help right away.

Questions to ask your doctor

  • Are my symptoms more severe than what is considered normal grief?
  • What kind of treatment would be best for what I’m experiencing?
  • Would grief counseling help me?
  • How do I find a good therapist?
  • What are some self-care steps I can take at home to help me feel better?
  • Are there any local or online support groups that could help me?
  • Do I need to see a psychiatrist?