Grief is a feeling experienced after a loss. Most commonly, it’s associated with the pain and trauma of a loved one’s death, but it can also take other forms. One definition describes grief as, “the conflicting feelings caused by the end of or change in a familiar pattern of behaviour.” A person might grieve the loss of a job, a pet, a home, a relationship, or even an opportunity. What really defines grief is the pain associated with that loss, and the fact that it can seem totally debilitating. Grieving people often feel isolated, because loss is deeply personal. But whatever you’re grieving, dedicated counselling can help you to process and live with your grief – and get back your quality of life.
There are plenty of types of grief, but some common ones are outlined below: Anticipatory grief is a sense of loss before the loss has actually occurred. ‘Normal’ grief, while not a very helpful title since there is no ‘normal’ way to grieve, refers to the natural grief experienced after loss. Complicated grief refers to grief that is prolonged and results in deeper psychological or emotional concerns. Disenfranchised grief is a grief that is experienced privately, unbeknownst to those around you – this might be the loss of a pregnancy that people didn’t yet know about, for example.
Grief is different for everyone, and can present itself in many different ways. You might be experiencing feelings or behaviours that you don’t even recognise are part of the grieving process.
According to the Department of Health, some of the most common reactions to grief are:
Other common responses to grief can include:
Grief can bring up confusing and complex emotions. For example, some people experience guilt or remorse about time not spent together, others might experience relief that a loved one is no longer suffering. Other people might feel irrational anger towards the person they’ve lost, for leaving them – even if they didn’t have a say in it.
All of these responses can be bewildering, and make it harder to go about your daily life. To an extent, they’re a normal part of the grieving process, and some things take time to resolve. But if your grief is stopping you from living a full life it’s important to get help.
The Victorian Government’s Better Health Channel points out that, “grief is a process and not an event.” Grief is a very personal experience, and it’s a non-linear process, but there are common threads and themes that a lot of people experience. You may have heard of the “five stages of grief”, a theory coined by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her 1969 book On Death and Dying, that posits that grieving people go through a series of ‘stages’ on the path to acceptance of loss. In Kübler-Ross’s model, the stages are:
While these stages may help to provide a benchmark for understanding some of the feelings you experience after a loss, it’s important to note that this model is very simplistic, was originally formulated to refer to people who were dying not grieving, and is no longer considered accurate.
It’s now recognised that grief is unpredictable, and can take all kinds of unexpected forms. You may experience some, all, or none of these stages – you may find yourself experiencing complicated emotions not accounted for in the model. That’s why simple models of grief can be unhelpful, because they may leave you feeling guilty or confused if your experience doesn’t fit the mould. The research on the psychology of grief is always expanding. There are other, newer models and theories about grief.
Specialist grief counselling can be delivered by trained practitioners, whether they’re exclusively grief counsellors, or generalist counsellors and psychologists with experience in the space. There are lots of support options and resources available to help you through your grief. Life Supports has a network of trained counsellors, some of whom are specifically trained in grief and loss and have many years of client experience. Though not always necessary, it can help to have someone specially trained in grief and loss, as they have extensive knowledge in how to tailor support to each individual.
Grief counselling will vary based on both the practitioner’s skills and preference, and the client’s needs. There are a number of useful approaches. Grief counsellors will often ask you to talk them through the death – and the life – of the person lost, as well as your own emotions about it. Grief counselling will generally involve at some stage confronting what’s happened head-on. There are a number of techniques grief counsellors may use to help you.
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) – is a type of therapy that focuses on reframing issues and emotions, so that they become manageable. CBT for grief is designed to help you reconcile the loss of a loved one with a new life without them. Some techniques involved in CBT include:
Other therapies and methods can include:
Grief is a fact of life, something everyone goes through – but that doesn’t make it easier. One of the most important things a grief counsellor will tell you is that you can’t eliminate it altogether. However, there are strategies you can use to weather the storms, and cope with the ups and downs that come with a deeply-felt loss.
One of the best things you can do to help process grief is counselling. Professional mental health support, delivered by trained counsellors and therapists, is an evidence-based method for helping people process loss and regain quality of life. Grief counsellors can help you in all sorts of ways, including:
Life Supports has a number of highly trained, qualified counsellors and therapists who specify in grief and loss. They’ll work with you to come up with a strategy to help you cope, build resilience and even maybe find a little joy in life.
There are also steps you can take in your personal life to help you cope with grief and loss:
It may seem impossible to see any kind of meaning in loss and trauma, but many authors in psychology research recommend finding meaning as an important and helpful component of the grieving process. Grief can help you learn to understand yourself and others, develop greater empathy, be more supportive of those around you, and it can make you more emotionally resilient. It can force you to confront deeper questions about life, and as a result live in a more meaningful way.
Grief is profound and painful because love and care is profound and beautiful. Grief alters the lens through which you view life, and coats it with wisdom, with reverence for life and with the complexities of what it means be a human who can connect deeply. That’s not to say that you have to try to see a positive in your loss, but grief counselling can help us to privilege the voice and memories of the person lost, yet keep enough momentum to keep travelling.
If you’re suffering a loss, you may benefit from professional mental health support. At Life Supports, we have plenty of caring, professional counsellors and therapists who will help you to work through your suffering in a constructive, healthy way.
Grief does not have a set timeframe, and is different for everyone. There is no target for when you should start feeling ‘better’, it’s more important that you work towards processing your experience and to some degree accepting it. Often, it’s through acceptance that you can start to feel better again.
While the stages of grief can be a useful framework for understanding complicated feelings around death and loss, don’t expect your experience to follow that exact blueprint. You can’t force your feelings to change, so one of the most important things a counsellor will tell you is to accept that you don’t have control over the experience or how it feels.
Once you stop fighting your feelings and allow them to be, you may well find them easier to process.
Grief counselling can help anyone who’s suffering through a loss of any kind. It’s a recommended way to help you process and deal with loss. However, there are a few signs that suggest you may be in particular need of professional help:
Grief counselling is a proven method to help you manage and process your grief, and move beyond the suffering to some degree of acceptance. Grief counselling can’t ‘fix’ or ‘cure’ your grief, but it can offer you tools to build strength and resilience, and still find some joy and contentment in life.
Loss is the absence of something you had in your life, whether that be a person who’s died, a relationship that’s over, or a lost opportunity, possession or ability.
Grief is the emotion connected to that loss, and it’s different for everybody. Some losses might cause you grief that other people wouldn’t typically recognise. For example, a lost job may cause you intense grief, but it can be hard if other people don’t understand that that’s what you’re experiencing, and so ignore or minimise your feelings.