Grief Therapy: Techniques & Activities

Kristin Hall

Reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP

Written by Our Editorial Team

Published 08/23/2021

Updated 05/25/2022

At some point in your life, you will experience grief. It comes in all types of ways for all types of reasons. 

You lost a pet or a parent. You lost a relationship. You lost an important item. When things get lost, we grieve — and each one of us grieves differently.

At certain moments, this can be sadness at the thought of never seeing your loved one’s face again, or hearing their laugh. 

Other times, you may feel disturbed while attempting to make sense of their departure. 

Some losses can have you feeling angry at yourself for not doing more for the departed while they were alive, and in special cases — a certain numbness can accompany the loss of someone dear to you.

The grieving process is an intense and often difficult experience. That’s why we have grief therapy.

Grief therapy can help with maneuvering through the spectrum of painful emotions that come with grief while teaching healthy ways to cope with loss.

What Is Grief Therapy?

According to the American Psychological Association, grief therapy is a form of talk therapy or counseling given to people who have lost a loved one. 

As a focus, this therapy looks to provide guidance on matters that affect separation, grieving, as well as continuing life without the loved one present. 

It’s also a useful way to manage the symptoms of depression that can sometimes accompany the mourning period over a lost person, according to an article published in the book, StatPearls.

In addition to the sadness, anger, or numbness that may follow the death of a loved one, anxiety, guilt, despair, changes in appetite, and even physical illness may also be normal reactions to loss, according to an article published in the journal, Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy.

For the most part, these symptoms can be managed without professional help and life will eventually return to a “new normal” over time. 

However, with suicide, an increased risk of death, and post-traumatic stress disorder being known negative health outcomes of grief, seeking counseling after the loss of a loved one could help to promote health and wellbeing.

Likewise, where the expected symptoms of bereavement are more severe, or last longer than expected, grief therapy may be necessary.

Grief therapy is typically available to individuals or groups, such as family members and associates who are struggling to come to terms with loss.

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Types of Grief

When a person experiences loss, there are a few established stages they may go through: shock and denial, anger, resentment and guilt, depression and acceptance are common steps, according to the British Journal of General Practice.

However, because people have their understandably unique ways of dealing with loss, these stages may be spread across different forms of grief. These forms include:

Anticipatory Grief

This is usually in expectation of loss that is sure to happen. Those commonly affected are the families, friends or community members of a person that is dying, such as a loved one in hospice care. It may also extend to the person who is directly facing imminent death.

Anticipatory grief can have all the usual symptoms of grief after a loss has already happened. It can cause heightened distress, pain and even health complications.

Normal Grief or Common Grief

Around 50 percent to 85 percent of people who have lost a loved one will experience normal grief or common grief. 

As its name implies, this is the typical reaction to loss, with common symptoms like crying, numbness, shock and disbelief accompanying it. 

Common grief eventually gravitates towards the acceptance of loss.

Complicated Grief

Complicated grief is an intense reaction to loss, more severe than normal responses to the passing of a loved one, according to an article published in the British Journal of General Practice. 

This form of grief is believed to occur in about 15 percent to 30 percent of bereaved people and is characterized by symptoms that include disbelief about the death, anger over the loss and preoccupation with the deceased, and is usually accompanied by intrusive thoughts related to death. 

These symptoms may be observed over a period that exceeds one or two years following the passing. 

To identify this form of grief, it may look very similar to major depression, generalized anxiety or even post-traumatic stress.

Traumatic Grief

This form of grief is associated with the sudden loss of a loved one. This can be a passing caused by anything from a sudden illness, to homicide, suicide or other violent death. 

Losing a loved one under traumatizing circumstances can lead to symptoms in line with post-traumatic stress disorder, according to an article published in the journal, Frontiers in Psychology

This form of grief may lead to a disturbance in personal, family, work, school, or social life.

Prolonged Grief

This is a chronic form of grief. 

Where the typical mourning period for a lost loved one is within the one to two year mark before healing really sets in, a person experiencing prolonged grief will struggle with the sadness, anger, guilt and other expected symptoms of grief for about 12 months in adults, and six months for children.

Prolonged grief will have a person feeling extreme versions of pain of grief, longing for the deceased, as well as a preoccupation with the lost loved one or the circumstances of their death. 

Any one of these behavior patterns over an extended period of time typically suggests prolonged grief.

Grief Counseling Techniques

To get you to share your feelings about your loss, how it affects you and your ways of coping with your loved one’s absence, grief counselors or mental health professionals have a number of techniques they can reach for. 

These approaches have the ultimate goal of ensuring healthy coping mechanisms with loss, and sustainable ways of moving past it. Grief therapy techniques include:

Commitment Therapy

Otherwise known as acceptance and commitment therapy, or ACT, this form of counseling encourages leaning into your emotions, rather than repelling them, according to an article published in the Journal of the Academy of Medical Sciences of Bosnia and Herzegovina

Commitment therapy looks to ensure acceptance of feelings, improving the relationship you have with your thoughts and feelings. 

This means embracing pain, happiness and confusion without looking to change your reaction to their effects.

To achieve this, you’ll be taught a number of things using different steps:

  1. In dealing with emotions, any attempts to avoid or control them can lead to negative outcomes.

  2. Gentle interventions to become very aware of your emotions during the five stages of grief. Your thoughts and behaviors around death become concepts that are familiar to you.

  3. Learning how to separate yourself from emotions so you can act independently of them.

  4. Learning how to lean away from a victim mentality.

  5. Recognizing your real, ideal personal values.

This form of therapy can help bereaved persons come into close quarters with their pain while teaching ways to best deal with it and provide self-care.

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Behavioral Therapy

To help get through the difficult times of serious conditions like prolonged grief disorder, mental health professionals may adopt methods such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to understand the link between thoughts, feelings and actions where grief is concerned, according to an article published in The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews

To manage the depression that can come with the grieving process, your mental health professional will coach you in methods to change behaviors. 

This form of treatment may take around 15 to 20 sessions, with therapy length depending on how severe the depression may be.

Likewise, mental healthcare professionals may also recommend other forms of behavioral therapy such as rational emotive therapy to help build coping skills, according to another article published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology

This treatment approach of psychotherapy looks to demonstrate that our beliefs about significant loss events tend to determine our emotional and behavioral reactions to them. 

It can help target irrational beliefs that surround feelings of loss. This can be achieved through teaching more sustainable methods of thinking about and maintaining bonds with the deceased.

Interpersonal therapy

This form of therapy looks to provide clarity on a person’s relationship with others. 

As a grief-management technique, the ultimate goal of interpersonal therapy is the release of repressed emotions, according to an article published in the Indian Journal of Psychiatry

This is achieved by grief counselors encouraging a patient to speak about their loss in their own way, and the things they miss the most about their departed loved one. 

They may speak about their relationship, as well as the series of events that led up to and followed the passing. 

Patients are also encouraged to speak candidly about memories shared with the departed.

Interpersonal therapy may sometimes require others to participate in the process of remembering the person lost.

Group Therapy Grief Support

Support groups are made up of people in similar life situations who may share similar problems or issues. 

Those in bereavement groups are no different, with members leaning on others who have lost loved ones for support in a safe space through their pain.

These groups may also share different methods of coping with grief.

Receive support from group members using our anonymous support group platform or online therapy to cope with loss, depression and other mental health challenges associated with a loved one's passing.

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Trying Grieving Therapy: Final Thoughts

Grief is a natural part of life, however, getting professional help to deal with the feelings of loss, pain, anxiety, and others that can accompany the loss of a loved one can be helpful.

Depending on the method employed by your mental health professional, healthy and more manageable ways of dealing with loss can be learned.

13 Sources

Hims & Hers has strict sourcing guidelines to ensure our content is accurate and current. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We strive to use primary sources and refrain from using tertiary references.

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This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. Learn more about our editorial standards here.

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