Grief & Loss

Grief & Loss

Grief is a normal feeling that we experience as a response to loss. It is an incredibly powerful emotion, which is often accompanied by feelings of shock, anger, sadness, guilt and remorse.
Whilst grief is most commonly associated with the loss of a loved one, we can experience grief after any form of loss such as miscarriage, pet, loss of a home or job or relationship breakdown, diagnosis of a chronic or terminal illness and so on.

CATEGORY: Life Events

SOURCES: APS | verywellmind.com | BMD

Number: #12

 

Small Dog Lying Down By A Gravestone

 

A study released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ National Study of Mental Health and Wellbeing in 2023 (5,500 people aged 16 to 85 years old during 2020-2021) showed that more than two in five Australians experience a mental health issue in their lifetime. In 2020–21 more than 3.4 million Australians sought help from a health care professional for their mental health.

The study is published at https://abs.gov.au/statistics/health/mental-health/national-study-mental-health-and-wellbeing/2020-21

Bereavement therapy can be very helpful in assisting people to process their loss.

Grief has the capacity to create intense physical and emotional pain. Initially, it can be overwhelming and uncontrollable. How you respond to a loss will be partially dependent on the depth of your relationship with the person or thing for which you are grieving.

Grief can be thought of as having two types: Uncomplicated Grief and Complicated Grief.

Uncomplicated Grief 

This is essentially a ‘normal’ grief reaction, which does not debilitate a person or severely impact their functioning. Often, therapy is not required for a person experiencing uncomplicated grief, and there is some research that suggests therapy for uncomplicated grief could actually prolong or intensify the grieving process.

Having said that, generally grief counselling facilitates the process of resolution in the natural reactions to loss and is appropriate for reaction to losses that have overwhelmed a person’s coping ability.

For people who usually find managing strong emotions difficult, or who find coping with difficult situations challenging, and for people who are struggling with the consequences of going through a grief process, therapy may be very helpful in working on issues such as:

  • facilitating expression of emotion and thought about the loss, including sadness, anxiety, anger, loneliness, guilt, relief, isolation, confusion, or numbness
  • thinking creatively about the challenges that follow loss and coping with concurrent changes in their lives.
  • assisting people to manage impacts of grief, such as feeling disorganised and tired, trouble concentrating, sleep poorly and have vivid dreams, and experience change in appetite

 

Complicated Grief

This could occur where the grief reaction is prolonged or manifests itself through some bodily or behavioural symptom, or by a grief response outside the range of cultural or psychiatrically defined normality.

‘Normal’ is quite a tricky concept because there is no real defined ‘normal’ for grief, everyone grieves differently, and that’s OK. It is more a recognition of the fact that sometimes people do ‘get stuck’ in their grief and this might require therapeutic intervention to address.

The goal of grief therapy in these situations is to identify and solve the psychological and emotional problems which appeared as a consequence.

These may appear as:

  • behavioural or physical changes
  • psychosomatic disturbances
  • delayed or extreme mourning
  • conflictual problems or sudden and unexpected mourning

Symptoms

People experience grief very individually and it does not look the same for everyone.

There is no right or wrong way to grieve, and the length and intensity of your grief will be unique to you.  It is vital for you to acknowledge your grief in order to start the process of working through it. You should be assertive with others about what you need to assist you through the process.

In the aftermath of a loss, you may experience a range of emotions that can include:

For instance, you may not just feel saddened by losing a loved one, you may also feel angry at them for leaving you. Maybe you regret something you said to them before they passed. It can sometimes be difficult to admit these feelings to others, or even yourself. However, harbouring unresolved issues can take a toll on your mental and physical health and make it difficult for you to move on.

Grief counseling can offer a safe space for you to express your emotions and process them so that you can start healing. You may find that you experience these emotions in different stages, although this is not always the case for everyone.  

Therapy | Treatment

 

Therapy for uncomplicated and complicated grief is not very different overall.

Grief counseling can offer you several benefits, which can include:

  • Fewer physical and emotional symptoms
  • Development of coping skills that can help you adapt to life without your loved one
  • Improved self-awareness, as you start to understand what you are feeling and why
  • Acceptance of your loss, which involves integrating it into your reality and maintaining a healthy bond with the person or pet you lost (if it was a person or a pet), as you move forward with your life

Therapy will help you to talk about your loss, how it has impacted you, and how you’re coping with it. If you lived with the person you lost, or if they were a part of your daily routine in some way, it can be difficult to approach certain spaces or activities without them.

Additionally, it can also be stressful to figure out how to take on certain tasks yourself. For example, if your partner managed your finances or certain household tasks, you may have to take on those roles yourself. Therapy can help you address your anxiety and uncertainty around these issues, work with you on a plan to tackle them at a pace you’re comfortable with, and gradually rebuild your routine.

When you lose someone very close to you, like a partner or family member, for instance, you may feel like you have lost a certain part of your own identity as well. Therapy can help you redefine your identity by encouraging you to focus on your other interests or relationships. It can also equip you with the skills and confidence you need to try new hobbies, reach out to other people, and build a support system for yourself.

You may also find that you gain a new identity, like “widow” or “single parent” after your loss. Therapy can help you explore what this means to you and how you can deal with adopting these new identities.

Therapy for Uncomplicated Grief

Therapy for uncomplicated grief may be appropriate where someone is struggling to manage the impacts of their grieving process, such as lack of concentration, sleeplessness, appetite changes, anger and irritability which may be impacting on relationships and work performance and so on.

Therapy may also assist people who find it difficult to cope with strong emotions, or who have problems identifying and managing their emotions.

Emotional and social support from people around you, combined with people’s natural resilience is often sufficient for many people in assisting them through the grieving process, and you may not feel that you need any additional help with your grief.  Where you feel that your grief is prolonged, is creating significant problems in many parts of your life as a result of all the things you are feeling and experiencing, or you do not have a supportive social network to help you through your grief, therapy may be very useful.

Therapy for Complicated Grief

Therapy for complicated grief is not that different from therapy for uncomplicated grief in that it will work on issues that have come up as a consequence of the grief process, and which are creating unmanageable difficulties in other areas of someone’s life.  Part of therapy for complicated grief is also to understand and process any past or current experiences or psychological factors that have been triggered by the grief process, and which may be complicating or prolonging this.

These are some of the techniques that therapists may use:

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT): ACT is a form of psychotherapy that encourages you to accept negative feelings and circumstances so you can begin to focus on healthier patterns that can help you reach your goals.

Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT): CBT is also a form of psychotherapy. It involves identifying and changing thought patterns that can negatively influence your behavior.