Mental Health

The Stages of Bereavement and How Therapy Can Help

By August 15, 2021 No Comments

It may not occur to you that you can get help during bereavement. Yet, if you have lost a loved one, the feelings of grief can overwhelm your life. So, what are the stages of bereavement? What can you expect from bereavement therapy? And how can you recognize when you need to seek counseling?

Read on to find out.

The Stages of Bereavement

You may think that someone close to you has to die in order to experience real grief. But you can experience bereavement during any significant life change: divorce, relationship end, job loss, illness diagnosis, moving, retirement, or sending a child off to college.

Here are the stages of grief:

  1. Denial: The first stage of grief includes feeling like your loss didn’t happen. You pretend that everything is okay and compartmentalize the loss as if someone is just on vacation or away on business.
  2. Anger: Sometimes, when you experience the anger stage of bereavement, you direct your big emotions toward something unrelated to the loss. This could be a neighbor who is blaring their music or a child who is acting up.
  3. Bargaining: You go through scenarios where if one thing went differently, you would still have your loved one alive or a relationship intact. You can even convince yourself that you’ll get the job back or get back together after a breakup.
  4. Depression: Loss of interest in daily activities, isolation, and difficulty getting out of bed signifies that you’ve transitioned into the fourth phase of grief. Recognizing that it’s time to ask for help can bring you to a healthier space.
  5. Acceptance: And finally, the acceptance phase is when you realize that you will be okay. You may never rid yourself of sad feelings, but you can be happy and celebrate the good times you had. When someone brings up the loss, you don’t feel dread and misery, but instead, you feel a little bit of hope with the acceptance.

When you are working through bereavement, your brain is cloudy, and it takes time to regain your footing and get back into everyday life. You may resume normal life but go about the motions with a heavy weight on your chest. However, with time and counseling, you can lessen the burden.

How Counseling Can Help You Through Bereavement

A therapist can listen to your feelings and help you sort them out. Sometimes confiding in someone unrelated to your family is monumental. The outside perspective can bring relief that you didn’t know you were looking for.

Here are some ways a therapist can help you process grief:

  1. Help Accept Negative Feelings: The truth is that your feelings of suffering will be heavy and weigh you down until enough time passes. You can’t rush the sense of yearning for an old friend, partner, job, or home. Accept that you will hurt for a long time but that it will one day get better.
  2. Provide Tools to Process Big Feelings: Instead of burying the dark feelings below the surface, a therapist can provide tools for reframing your feelings. For example, if you feel like you will never find love again, you can find tools to identify your self-worth and return to living a vibrant life.
  3. Focus on Living in the Moment: It can be easy to go into the past, remembering all of the good times and security you felt before your loss. A therapist will help you consider the relationships and people still here in your life who love you. And pave the way for you to be present for those relationships.
  4. Make Plans to Take Control of Your Life: You can work with the therapist to design tangible steps toward rebuilding your life in a healthy, beautiful way. For example, take baby steps by sending a note to a friend or saying thank you to the mailman to re-engage your social life.
  5. Provide a Listening Ear: Sometimes, all you need in a counselor is a listening ear. Talking without being judged and knowing that they will keep your trust are extremely valuable to bereavement.

It’s never too late to ask for bereavement counseling. Even if you suffered a loss 20 years ago, you might have unresolved issues related to that loss that need sorting out. So do not be afraid to reach out and ask for help.

Tips for Working Through Grief

If you are working through the mourning process on your own and are not quite ready to seek professional help, try these few things to cope with the loss:

  • Get outside every day.
  • Prioritize exercising.
  • Avoid or limit alcohol.
  • Stay in close contact with family and friends.
  • Meditate and focus on healing.
  • Set aside time to do something that brings you joy.
  • Eat a healthy diet, being careful not to overeat or undereat.
  • Take up a new hobby like painting, running, or cooking.
  • Meet a new friend that isn’t privy to your loss.
  • Join a book club, volunteer organization, or walking group.
  • Write in a journal.

There is no timeline to grief. You do not have to wait a certain amount of time before it is socially acceptable to laugh with a friend. And you don’t have to be ready to run the PTA bake sale by a specific time, either. Work at your own pace. Incorporate small changes in your life as you feel up for each challenge.

No matter where you are in the stages of bereavement, know that help is at your disposal. A trained therapist can help you through your loss. Hope is the most critical part of the grieving process. Know that you will be able to laugh one day again or look back at memories with fondness instead of despair. If you would like a therapist to guide you toward living a full life again, contact our experienced team at Lifeworks Counseling Center to learn more about available treatments.

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