All too often we as individuals are left by dear friends and family to experience grief. When we think of experiencing grief, many of us think of what our past experience with grief has been. The truth is grief shows up in different ways in people’s lives. Grief is not only experienced with death, loss comes in different forms such as divorce, empty nest, a lovers break-up or trauma.
Grief is often the result of some type of loss. Whenever someone loses a primary identity, they mourn a lost sense of self (Psychology Today 2019). A lost identity or affiliation is what triggers the grief process, not understanding or knowing who you are post the loss of someone. Grief is experienced differently by individuals and takes time to develop a sense of self again. Grief is the natural reaction to loss. Grief is both universal and personal. Individuals experiences of grief vary and are influenced by the nature of the loss (Mayo Clinic 2019).
Therapist Techniques for Grief
Many therapists use different techniques for grief based on the person, the age of the client, gender and how they are affected by the grief or loss. It is important an individual finds a therapist they can connect with in order to grieve in their own way. Culture often comes into play when grieving. Culture defines us as individuals and is often significant in the way we mourn individuals. It is important for the therapist to be culturally competent so he/she can respectfully guide the client through the process of grief. Narrative therapy is sometimes used as a therapy to talk about grief, life experiences and the loss of a loved one, friend or trauma. Below are additional therapies used in grief therapy.
- Acceptance & Commitment Therapy (ACT) – CBT Therapy with diffusions attached. Rather than change the thoughts, you get them to accept them. I’m having the thought…. Thoughts are not dismissed but rather embraced.
- Interpersonal Psychotherapy – Helping people with grief or loss, interpersonal deficits – reality
Role of the Therapist
- Create an effective treatment plan
- Control the process of grief using effective interventions
- Use reflective active listening
- Use positive regard
- Identify areas of struggle and change the therapeutic process as necessary
Therapy for adults can be achieved with Facilitated Role Play, Empty Chair Technique, Active Reflective Listening, and normalizing the grief and loss process using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Developing a grief treatment plan specific to the client helps the therapist direct the healing process. The Kubler Ross Model was designed in 1969 by Elizabeth Kubler Ross as the five stages of grief in terminal illness, denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. The stages were introduced in her book On Death and Dying (The Five Stages of Grief, 2019). Elizabeth Kubler Ross designed her grief process for individuals experiencing the process of losing their life, and later was adopted by individuals who were going through the grief process after losing a loved one. Grief, denial, anger, depression, bargaining and acceptance were also experienced by the person experiencing the loss.
Children and Adolescents
Adolescents often hold their feelings in, assessing adolescents for depression and suicidal thoughts are often techniques used by therapists if their grief has caused them to have a sense of not wanting to live. Introducing strength based resources and providing validation of their feelings are important. Creating a collage of their loved one can assist with the grief process, the younger children may respond to sand trey work. Exploring their feelings through music or art therapy will provide direction for healing to occur. Trauma focused-Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT) consists of connecting thoughts, feelings, and behaviors related to the grief or trauma.
There are many different dimensions to grief and healing:
- Talking about the death of your loved one.
- Sharing your feelings.
- Take care of yourself and your family if you’re an adult.
- Reach out and help others dealing with the loss.
- Celebrate the lives of your loved ones.
The sadness from grief typically diminishes in intensity as time passes, grieving is an important process in order to overcome these feelings and continue to embrace the time you had with your loved one Therapists can help individuals manage their loss by helping individuals get through the fear and anxiety of their loss using techniques to pace the progress of healing (American Psychology Association,2019).
In order to help individuals get through challenges of grief and loss, they first must seek out a therapist they trust. Pay attention to your symptoms if you lost a loved one, family members who are isolating and attend a grief group if one-on-one with your therapist is not what you’re looking for. Remember adults, children and adolescents mourn differently. Seeing a therapist immediately following a loss provides a sense of validation and support for all the feelings an individual may experience through the grief process.