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Grief Counseling, Bad for You?

Photo of hand reaching out to each other.

Is grief counseling bad for you?

The short answer is absolutely not. I hear this question more often than I would like. So here’s my take on it…

Without question, the most effective support for grief and loss is a grief support group. Period!

I should also say that plenty of people get through their grief without anything more than their family and friends, and I know many who have grieved quite alone and come out the other side just fine.

That said, one on one counseling or coaching can often help especially in situations where there are complicating factors like (but not limited to) multiple losses in close succession, loss of a child, violent and sudden deaths, difficult relationships, prior mental health issues and just plain old unfinished business (almost everyone has some of that).

So yes one on one grief support can be useful but much depends on the professional you see. In the hands of someone who does not understand grief, it may not help, and even be harmful, because they have no idea how to differentiate grief from other issues like depression and anxiety, thus have no idea how to be helpful.

Normal grief is not a mental disorder. It is not depression though it may look like it. Nor is it anxiety which it can also mimic. Nor in the vast majority of cases, is it PTSD. Grief is a normal and natural response to loss.

So before you head off for grief counseling, here’s my primer on how to find the right support for you.

There’s a whole lot of bad therapy going on out there. Just because someone has a degree and a license does not guarantee any kind of expertise. The problem is even worse when it comes to grief counseling. Many mental health professionals believe they are prepared to deal with grief issues because of their mental health background, and it’s just not so.

Grief is a specialized field so you need to make sure you have a counselor or coach with the experience and expertise in grief and loss you need. Ask about their experience and even interview several counselors before you decide. Yes, you’ll probably have to pay for those sessions but it’s well worth doing to find someone who can really help you.

In addition to expertise, another reason to interview 2 or 3 before you decide, is you want to be working with someone you like and can trust. This is something you feel in your gut and has nothing whatever to do with the diplomas on the wall.

In study after study, the effectiveness of therapy and counseling is shown to be the quality of the relationship rather than the kind of therapy or therapeutic techniques used. So pay close attention to the quality of the relationship. Being in a therapeutic relationship with someone you don’t like, don’t trust, or otherwise makes you uncomfortable, is counterproductive.

To Recap:
1. Trust yourself. You are the expert on your own process.
2. Find an expert in grief (counselor, coach or therapist).
3. Like and trust the person you’re seeing

Unless there are extenuating circumstances, my recommendation is to first find a support group because it may very well be enough.

If you still want counseling or coaching, interview several people before you decide. Keep looking until you find the right person.

Image by Tumisu from Pixabay

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2 thoughts on “Grief Counseling, Bad for You?”

  1. Avatar

    Even though science can only account for 5% of our universe many people believe in a ‘lights out’ when we die. Research of people who have been clinically dead and had so-called Near-Death Experiences show that it is rather a ‘lights on’ when we cross over to the other side. While about 15% have unpleasant experiences, by far the majority (70 – 80%) describe a pleasant meeting with what is often called “the Light” which contains very powerful sensations of peace, joy and love.

    Does knowing or believing in what is on the other side make our grief and recovery easier?

    1. Avatar

      Rene, thanks for your question.

      There’s no definitive answer. For some people knowing (none of us know for sure) or believing there is life on the other side, is very comforting. Certainly having a sense that we’ll see the person again can help some people.

      On the other hand, what you believe doesn’t take away the emptiness of the person being gone from our lives right now. That’s just plain painful no matter what you believe.

      I also see a lot of people trying to be comforted by the idea of an afterlife, but really aren’t comforted by it at all. Trying to believe in something you don’t really buy into actually prolongs grief and makes it more difficult. The key is to stay with what you actually believe. During the grieving process beliefs can change, but trying to believe something that doesn’t feel true to you will never help.

      Where I’ve found near death research most helpful was when I was working with people who were dying. I’d always present it as “I don’t know (which I don’t) but this is what the research suggests…” For people facing their own death, I think it’s often quite comforting and hopeful.


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