Grief is an unfortunate but normal part of life, but it is difficult for many of us to define it. What can be said is that it is a significant emotional response to a trauma and part of the healing process. Simply experiencing grief does not mean that a person has a mental health disorder. Grief can become so intense, however, that it interferes with a person’s quality of life. Traumas that can inspire grief include:
- Receiving a terminal diagnosis for yourself or a loved one
- Natural disasters
- Losing a job
- Experiencing divorce or separation
- Losing an important personal skill
One cannot control grief. It needs to flow and process at its own rate, and it is important for those experiencing this part of life to understand that.
The Stages of Grief
Mental health professionals view grief as being comprised of five stages.
Denial: First comes denial. In this stage, the individual is momentarily incapable of accepting events, which protects them from extreme emotions and gives them time to adjust.
Anger: Anger typically follows. This strong emotion comes up because people realize they cannot control the events related to the inciting trauma.
Bargaining: Bargaining is the next stage. In this stage, the individual runs a lot of “what ifs” through their mind, even blaming themselves for events.
Depression: Depression involves finally beginning to understand the finality of the inciting event and is the pre-stage to acceptance.
Acceptance: Acceptance, the final stage, does not mean the individual is “over it.” What it means is that they have adjusted to a new reality.
When Grief Gets Complicated
Sometimes it becomes very difficult for individuals to move through the stages of grief. In these scenarios, consulting with a therapist may be necessary. Signs of complicated grief can include:
- Showing signs of clinical depression
- Engaging in suicidal thinking
- Blaming oneself for the trauma
- Incapable of maintaining a quality of life
Getting Through Grief
Getting through grief is hard for many of us, often because we don’t want to forget a lost person or we think that being “over” an event is disrespectful. Again, getting through grief is not disrespectful; it means accepting the new reality of the world you now live in.
Therapy can be very beneficial to those experiencing the complexities of grief. The following are some of the interventions you might benefit from in treating grief.
In individual therapy, a patient and therapist look for the triggers of grief and work to build better coping tools for the patient. One of the significant benefits of individual therapy is that the patient can give voice to feelings and thoughts they might not wish to share with loved ones in an objective and supportive setting.
Those experiencing grief often benefit from hearing the stories of others and realizing they are not alone. In group therapy, a counselor guides the process to ensure everyone feels safe and has a voice. The counselor may also provide coping mechanisms for the group to utilize in their lives.
Therapy for Children
Children deal with grief very differently than adults do. For one, they may not even understand death or trauma. They also express their emotions very differently. Working with a therapist who specializes in childhood grief can greatly benefit a child. These therapists can identify struggles in a child and help parents build tools for helping a child.
Therapy for Teenagers
As with younger children, teenagers experience grief differently than adults do. While they may understand more than a child, they are still developing and may have difficulty expressing their emotions. Therapists specializing in adolescent grief can guide the process effectively, benefitting the teen and his family.