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Grief Counseling

Topic Overview

Grief counseling is short term and focuses on working through the grieving process related to a major loss. Grief counseling is also called bereavement counseling. The term "bereavement" usually is used only when referring to the loss of a person through death.

Grief counseling typically has four components:

  • Learning about grief and what to expect when grieving. In grief counseling, people are taught the normal grieving process, including expected feelings and thoughts. They are also taught how to tell the difference between normal grieving and other conditions, such as depression, that can develop from grieving.
  • Expressing feelings. People are encouraged in grief counseling to express all their feelings, whatever they may be. Sometimes people who are having trouble expressing their feelings are encouraged to talk about their loss or to use other means of expressing themselves. For example, they may be asked to speak with the lost person as though he or she were there. Other techniques that help people express their feelings include writing letters about their loss or writing to the lost person, looking at photos and remembering the lost loved one or object, or visiting the grave of a loved one who has died.
  • Building new relationships. This component of grief counseling helps people develop a new relationship with the lost person or object. Memories usually linger for years and can sometimes be troubling, so emphasis is placed on learning how to incorporate memories of the past into the present.
  • Developing a new identity. During grief counseling, people are taught how to develop a new sense of self after a loss. For example:
    • A man who loses his only sibling strengthens his or her self-perception as a grandfather and a volunteer instead of as a brother.
    • A widow who has lost her husband of 45 years begins meeting with other women in her building for tea every morning.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine
Sidney Zisook, MD - Psychiatry
Last Revised November 4, 2013

Last Revised: November 4, 2013

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