Turning to Grief Counseling When You Need Help

Grief occurs any time we experience loss. It appears after a clear loss, like the death of a loved one, or a loss like a divorce or loss of identity. Grief is a natural, normal process to help us get through and process the experience.

If you are unsure whether you are experiencing grief or finding it challenging to work through bereavement, grief counseling can offer support and helpful ways to bring meaning to the loss and allow you to move forward through your grief.

This article will define grief, provide an overview of grief counseling, and offer ways to find a grief therapist.

BIPOC person in therapy for treatment

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How Grief Counseling Helps You Process Emotions

Grieving is hard. However natural it may be, working through loss can take a toll on a person's mental, emotional, and physical well-being. While most people will not need to see a grief counselor, some may find bereavement challenging to navigate alone.

A grief therapist can help identify emotions, provide a safe space to talk about the loss, and help you find healthy ways to move forward.

Everyone Grieves

Over 2.5 million people die every year in the United States. With each loss, many people are left to mourn. Varying situations and complicated relationships can make grieving difficult, and a grief therapist can help bring meaning and direction to an otherwise lonely and challenging time.

Stages of Grief

Though grief looks different for everyone, there are generally two phases of the grieving process. Acute grief is the first phase and occurs immediately after the loss. Integrated grief is the second phase, once the loss becomes less intense and disruptive.

Acute Grief

Immediately after experiencing a loss, feelings are likely to be intense and most pronounced. This period of yearning is known as acute grief.

During acute grief, the emotional response to the loss can be disruptive. You might find it difficult to function normally, as there is often a strong desire to process your feelings internally and disengage from the world.

This time is often stressful and may be associated with intrusive thoughts and overwhelming feelings throughout the day. Acute grief will vary in length depending on the circumstances and your coping resources.

Integrated Grief

Over time the painful intensity of loss will lessen and become easier to accept. Much like acute grief, there is no standard timeline for integrated grief. Although it may never fully go away, the grief should eventually feel less present, and the moments when it resurfaces should be easier to manage.

Everyone's Process Is Unique

Each person's grief journey is unique and depends upon factors like support systems, coping mechanisms, closeness to the person you're grieving for, circumstances around the loss, and whether others recognize the loss.

The grief journey will be difficult but manageable for many people without professional intervention. For some, though, grief can be prolonged, remain intense, and interfere with your ability to find meaning and joy in life. If you are experiencing prolonged grief, talk to your healthcare provider about your support options.

Everyone's Grief Journey is Different

Everyone grieves in their own way, and the process is an individual path. Mourning varies among cultures as well. Some cultures promote outward grieving, while others consider it a private process. It's important not to make assumptions about how someone is grieving based on observations alone.

Different Types of Grief

Just as the grieving process can vary greatly, there are different types of grief and loss, and each of them brings a different set of circumstances to bereavement.

Anticipatory vs. Sudden Grief

Anticipatory grief occurs when a loss is expected, such as after the passing of a family member who was terminally ill or as parents become empty nesters after raising their children to adulthood. This type of grief starts before the loss and may involve several losses along the way, such as financial loss, loss of identity, and loss of excitement for the future.

Most Death Losses Are Anticipatory

In the United States, about 70% of all deaths are due to chronic conditions, like cancer or other illnesses, which means most death-related losses are anticipatory.

Sudden grief occurs when a loss is unexpected, such as when a love one suddenly dies from injury or when one partner suddenly calls off a relationship. In these situations, the person does not have time to prepare for the loss and is often initially met with feelings of shock.

Anticipatory and sudden grief are both difficult and may require a grief therapist to work through the pain of the loss.

Complicated Grief

Complicated grief is when a person struggles to live with loss. The intensity of emotions, intrusive thoughts about the person who died or the circumstances of their death, and other disruptive preoccupations can interfere with the ability to move forward through the loss and find meaning in life again.

Complicated grief is common after a violent or unexpected death, as with homicides and suicides, and after losing a child.

If you are experiencing complicated grief, you may benefit from grief counseling. A grief counselor will help you process the most painful parts of the death and loss and begin to take steps to honor the person who died and remember and celebrate their life.

How Common Is Complicated Grief?

Research shows that about 7% of those grieving struggle with complicated grief and may benefit from a grief therapist to learn how to effectively cope with the loss.

Ambiguous Loss

Ambiguous loss occurs when the person is physically absent but psychologically present, such as in the case of a missing person, or psychologically absent but physically present, such as with traumatic brain injury or dementia.

Ambiguous losses are challenging to grieve because there is still an element of the person present that takes away from the finality of the loss.

A grief counselor can help you work through the many issues that stem from ambiguous loss and cope with the psychological challenges that emerge.

Disenfranchised Grief

Disenfranchised grief occurs when the grief you are experiencing is not supported or recognized by society as legitimate. It can cause the grieving person to feel as though their grief is not important or valid, which makes it difficult to mourn healthily.

Disenfranchised grief includes grieving the death of a former partner, a pet, or an incarcerated loved one. Receiving support during bereavement and validation from a grief counselor can help process the loss and normalize the grief experience.

Grief Counseling Techniques

Grief therapy will look different depending on the circumstances of the death, an individual's coping techniques, the support system available to the person, and the individual needs of the person seeking therapy. There are many techniques available to help guide the grief therapy sessions.

Reaction Phase

Early in the grieving period, grief therapy will likely focus on listening and allowing for the expression of feelings. The therapist might help provide emotional regulation strategies and encourage certain kinds of self-care, if necessary.

Reconstruction Phase

During the middle part of grief when the focus is on reconstructing your life and identity, therapeutic interventions may include ways to remember and honor the loss or the person who died. This might include:

  • Engaging in "dialogue" with the person who died
  • Expressive arts approaches
  • Mindfulness techniques
  • Play therapy for children
  • Writing a letter to the person who died

Reorienting Phase

Once grief has become integrated, therapy will focus on reorienting to a new life without the person.

Finding a Therapist Near You

It can be overwhelming to try to find the right grief therapist. Once you decide you'd like to pursue this, several options are available.


One option is to use an online therapy search tool. The American Psychological Association, American Counseling Association, and American Psychiatric Association have therapist finders on their websites. Psychology Today also has a therapist finder that includes mental health professionals from all fields.

In Person

One of the best ways to find a therapist is by word of mouth. You can also request a medical professional or your health insurance carrier for a list of providers in your area. You'll need to do some vetting to ensure you find the right person, but an online search or phone call can give you a lot of information.

Free or Reduced Services

Many communities have grief centers where therapists specialize in providing grief therapy. Try searching in your area to find a grief center near you. Local universities offer graduate programs in mental health, and they often have low- or no-cost clinical centers available to the community.

Finding the Right Mental Health Provider

The type of therapist you find doesn't matter as much as the connection you feel with them. Make sure the person is licensed in their field and ask about their experience with grief work. Try not to get caught up in their years of experience or where they earned their degree. If you don't feel a connection, don't give up; try someone new.


Grief is a normal, natural process that follows loss. There are different stages and forms of grief. For those who struggle to cope with a loss, grief counseling can help one process emotions and move forward to find meaning again. Grief therapists can be found through online search tools and by referrals through medical professionals and health insurance providers.

A Word From Verywell

Grieving a loss is hard, regardless of the circumstances. It can feel isolating and overwhelming but know that you are not alone. Everyone will experience loss in their lifetime, and there are resources to support you through your grief. If you're struggling to get through the day or often cry, feel isolated, uncontrollably angry, or even empty months after the loss, connect with a mental health provider for support.

If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Does insurance cover grief counseling?

    Each insurance plan is different and will cover various levels of healthcare needs. Many insurance plans cover most or all of the cost of counseling regardless of the reason for seeking therapy. Contact your health insurance carrier before hiring a mental health professional to ensure you receive a list of in-network providers and a clear understanding of the cost breakdown, as well as any balances or co-pays you will be responsible for.

  • When should you try grief therapy?

    If several weeks or months have passed and your grief feels unbearable, disruptive to your ability to function, or uncontrollable, it might be helpful to talk to a grief therapist. If you have suicidal thoughts or feelings of no longer wanting to be alive, you should dial 988 to reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline immediately or go to the nearest emergency room.

  • Can you recognize stages of the grieving process in yourself?

    Grief looks different for everyone and doesn't always occur in stages or in the order presented in checklists. Generally, you will feel your worst in the initial days and weeks following the loss. As the months pass, you might notice that intense feelings like sadness, anger, longing, and pain are no longer as prominent. Years after the loss, you might see yourself reflecting on the loss and finding ways to honor or memorialize the person who died.

7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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