Grief Therapy FAQs

What is Grief?

Grief is the response one feels following a loss. Loss is the event, grief is the relationship you have with the loss, and mourning is how you express that grief.

Grief is felt on mental, emotional, physical, spiritual, and social realms. While everyone experiences loss and grief throughout their life, everyone feels and expresses grief differently.

Mentally, you may feel absent-minded, forgetful, lacking the ability to focus or sustain attention, or have intrusive or racing thoughts.

Emotionally, you may feel sad, anxious, angry, relieved, guilty, or any emotion on the spectrum. You may have crying spells or rage.

Physically, you may feel pain in your body, increased heart rate or respirations, shaking, or a decrease in energy. You may sleep more or not be able to sleep. You may not have an appetite, or you may overeat.

Spiritually, you may lean into your faith or you may abandon your faith out of a feeling of anger, betrayal, or abandonment. You may have existential questions about the death of your loved one, feeling it was untimely or unjust.

Socially, you may feel that people are “moving on”, and you’re in a suspended reality of a new world without your loved one. You may feel that people don’t understand or don’t want to bear witness to your sadness, so you avoid social situations. You may avoid other situations because you participated with your person and it’s too painful now.

What Isn't Grief?

Grief isn’t pathological – You may visit your doctor, six weeks after a significant loss, and say “I’m sad. I cry a lot.” She or he may interpret that as a sign of depression, as it commonly is when there is no rational or circumstantial trigger for strong emotions. Hopefully, she or he has my card nearby and advises some guided grief work. What often happens, though, is that medical professionals see symptoms through a medical lens. The patient reports pain and the doctor prescribes an anecdote to pain. An antidepressant. A sleeping pill. An anti-anxiolytic. Medication has its place, and it’s often alongside therapy and it’s sometimes in the midst of grief.

Grief is a natural mental, emotional, physical, spiritual, social human process. Say it with me. Grief is a natural mental, emotional, physical, spiritual, social human process. That said … grief can be a trigger to something that does need to be addressed. Grief can exacerbate underlying conditions and trigger a Major Depressive Episode, a Manic Episode, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or symptoms of known or unknown mental health conditions. I don’t have a medical degree and respectfully defer to those who do – encouraging you to have an educated and personal discussion with your primary medical professional.

As a grief professional, the three criteria I look for over an extended time are:

Atypical responses to typical circumstances. This looks like prolonged extreme overreaction and intolerance for minor aggravation.

Significant disruption to essential daily responsibilities. This looks like not being able to eat, sleep, work, act as a primary caregiver for a dependent, or practice basic hygiene.

Feeling more hopeless instead of hopeful over time. Grief, in general, should follow an “upward” trajectory. You will have hours, days, weeks, months where you cannot see what is beyond the pain and darkness. With time and grief work, those hours, days, weeks, months, should yield to moments of hope and joy. Then hours of hope and joy, then days, weeks, and months. I often hear people say “I was doing so well!” or “I’m going backward!” Grief is a complicated process and there will be setbacks when something changes in your psyche or your environment. You’ll have to draw on your coping toolbox to grow through this experience. I call it “leveling up”. You’re going to a new level of grief enlightenment. Three steps forward, one step back. If you are feeling increasingly hopeless without ceasing over a period of time that may be an indication that your grief has triggered something more significant that should be addressed medically and therapeutically.

As always, an important caveat is that if you ever feel like you are in danger of taking your life, call 9-1-1, go to your nearest Emergency Department, or call the Suicide Hotline.

Grief isn’t time limited – A common misconception of grief is that it is a period of time that the griever endures and, at the end, the grief is over and life returns to “normal”.

What actually happens with grief is that the loss is the event that sets off a series of losses and changes in the griever’s life, at which time s(he) enters “grief”. The mental, emotional, physical, spiritual and social changes that occur to the griever’s psyche are irrevocable. The task is for one to absorb the loss – to not move from the loss, but with the loss. The griever builds a life around the loss that includes both remnants of the “before”, and an expansion of new ideas, priorities, events, priorities, and relationships that is reminiscent, but not altogether inclusive of the life the griever had before.

Grief isn’t “one size fits all” – we humans have the notion that others feel and respond the way we do. If they respond to a difficult situation in a way that is different than us, we may see this as “there’s something wrong”. I have had many conversations with families who say “I’M FINE, but my sister …” Grieving people often feel judged for their actions or inaction. They often hear subtle or not so subtle messages that they are “doing grief wrong” from workplaces, religious communities, family, friends, and strangers. It seems that many people feel that they are entitled to an opinion on your grief. Your grief response is complex and stems from the relationship you had to the person or thing you lost, previous losses, secondary losses, other life stressors, and circumstances of loss. The way you grieve is also impacted by your worldview, spiritual beliefs, support system, and a myriad of other nuanced identifiers that are unique to your “grief fingerprint”.

What is Grief Work?

Grieving is not a passive experience. Grief intrinsically changes not only the world around you, but your very core. It upends your beliefs, values, priorities, and relationships. Author, John Green, says “That's the thing about pain. It demands to be felt” Grief will show up again and again, nudging and insistent. You can postpone grief, but you can’t avoid it.

By actively doing the grief work, you can engage in a healthy way and build your emotional toolbox to build a life around your loss.

How Can Grief Therapy Help Me?

Grief is not intuitive. Many of us were never taught “how to grieve”. The moment grief becomes uncomfortable, we want to push it down, run away, or become numb or paralyzed.

A therapist skilled in grief therapy and therapeutic techniques can bear witness to and accompany you through the most difficult emotions so that they aren’t so scary.

What Should I Expect in Therapy Sessions?

It can feel both stressful and hopeful to come to therapy for the first time – or with someone new. It is stressful because the person you’re meeting is a stranger with whom you’re vulnerable. Hopeful because you’re hoping this will offer some relief.

I do several things in session – educate on grief - People often feel that there is something wrong with them when grieving, because they have never felt this way before. I normalize what they are feeling and educate on what typical grief looks like.

I hold space – Sometimes those who are grieving are expected to be strong for others or expected to carry on with caregiving or work responsibilities or feel that they have “burned out” their loved ones with their grief. I believe in the power of a story and I believe that every time you tell your story of loss and survival, it takes on new meaning and heals a little at a time.

My office is a sanctuary for talking about whatever you need to talk about without judgment. You’ll notice I often paraphrase what you’ve said, or “interpret” what you’ve said. I offer insight through the lens of grief professional to help you see thoughts, emotions, or behaviors in context.