What is Grief?
Grief is an emotional reaction to a traumatic or life-altering event. Grief is a normal and healthy part of human life that people experience in response to losing important things like:
- Good health
- A loved one
- A relationship
- An important skill
- A home
- A job
While experiencing grief does not mean a person has a mental health disorder, some people need professional help to work through the feelings. Furthermore, learning about the stages of grief and how to cope can help people know what to expect.
The Typical Stages of Grief
Generally, the mental health community recognizes that grief comes in five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Understanding what each of these phases looks like can help people move through them.
Denial: This is naturally the first stage in grief because sometimes the loss is too much to take in all at once. The mind tries to protect itself from the flood of sadness and anger that the event might cause without some level of denial. People in denial may say things like, “But I just saw him yesterday.”
Anger: Once a person’s denial starts to fade, they may turn to anger. This emotion is often a response to the fact that the person has no control over the situation.
Bargaining: During the bargaining part of grief, people wonder what could have happened differently to prevent the pain. They may appeal to a higher power to reverse what happened.
Depression: When the reality of the situation sets in, many people in grief experience a low mood and pervasive sadness.
Acceptance: The acceptance stage of grief does not mean that a person misses what they lost any less than before. Instead, it means that they have learned to live with this new reality.
What is Complicated Grief?
Some people move through the stage of grief fluidly and with relative ease. Others, however, struggle to manage the process on their own. In some cases, people develop what’s called “complicated grief.” This type of grief is marked by things like:
- Symptoms of major depression
- Struggling to go about daily life
- Thoughts of suicide
- Overwhelming guilt about the event that ignited the grief
How to Overcome Grief
Getting to acceptance with grief is hard for many people. Some mourners believe that if they learn to live with a loss, it means that they have forgotten about the thing they lost. It’s important to remember that overcoming grief is not the same thing as getting over someone. It’s learning to live within your new reality.
Therapists can counselors can help people overcome grief in emotionally healthy and respectful ways.
During individual therapy sessions, a grieving person talks with a therapist about their emotions. The counselor teaches the patient to understand what they are feeling and use healthy coping tools. This practice also provides patients with safe spaces in which they can explore their feelings with a neutral party.
Group counseling sessions include one counselor and several group members who have all experienced a similar type of event. Members hare their experiences and feelings while counselors guide the conversation. Therapists and group leaders may also teach about healthy coping skills.
Therapy for Children
Grief can be difficult for anyone, but especially so for children. Children often do not fully understand what a loss means. Therapists who specialize in pediatrics can help kids understand what happened and work through their emotions. Counselors include parents in all of these decisions and honor a family’s personal beliefs during this time.
Therapy for Teenagers
Teenagers understand more than their younger siblings but do not have the full capabilities for coping that their parents have. If your teen is dealing with grief, it’s important to seek help from a professional with experience in helping teens.