Catholic Grief Counseling: What to Expect

Updated

Death and loss are a natural and inevitable part of life that most people will have to endure. While personal losses occur every day, not everyone experiences the profound emotional pain and suffering associated with grief. Because of their faith and beliefs, some people can better cope with the challenges following a tragedy, especially those dealing with grief among the Catholic community. Their values, ideas, and traditions play an integral role in how they view and process grief. 

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Grieving with the support of the Catholic faith is a unique experience. Grief reactions typically lessen following the death of a loved one or another type of tragic loss when following Christian-based principles and values. The way Catholics grieve highly depends on how the  Catholic religion views death and dying. Grief resources are readily available to Catholics and typically start within the home, extending to the community for added support.

What’s Catholic Grief Counseling?

After a tragedy, one primary source of grief support comes from the Catholic Church's free grief counseling services made available to its members. This specialized grief counseling incorporates the bereaved member's cultural and spiritual traditions in the grief counseling process while relying on the incorporation of core Catholic beliefs. 

Catholics seeking grief counseling through the Church or other faith-based counseling services will receive a spiritual approach to managing their grief and bereavement. There are notable differences between how Catholics and non-Catholics view death.

The Catholic interpretations and attitudes towards death, dying, and the afterlife help them prepare for life's major tragedies. Their overall grief effect after suffering significant setbacks is typically lessened based on how strongly they align themselves with their faith and religion. 

Catholic grief counseling

In understanding the Catholic grief counseling process, knowing how Catholics view death and the afterlife is crucial. On the surface, most Catholics believe in an afterlife based on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. They’ve come to understand the death of Jesus through the bible and its teachings.

Catholic core beliefs include living and dying in faith and by faith. They have a real hope of an afterlife and reunification with God, their maker, as promised to them in the bible. 

The bible recounts Jesus’s experiences as him having faced his death in fear and anxiety, but who was also ready to freely and willingly accept it. As a result, Catholics consider death and grief a natural progression into entering the kingdom of eternal life.

Catholics are taught and believe that Jesus lives on the other side of death, where he was resurrected or eternally reborn. Faith in the resurrection allows Catholics to view death as an extension of life, significantly affecting how they grieve.

Catholic grief counseling involves many aspects of traditional grief counseling but with the added comfort of religious faith and doctrine. A bereaved Catholic might get counseled, emphasizing life after death and the promises and hope of resurrection, which are central themes in Catholic theology. There's a consolation of hope and added importance to God's promises of immortality when comforting a grieving Catholic. 

Traditional grief counseling 

There are many models and theories explaining grief and how to best heal from its effects. Traditional grief counseling most often uses the stages of grief model to help heal bereaved individuals instead of focusing on religious doctrine in coping with grief. Non-faith-based grief counseling relies more on the traditional approaches to psychology and the mental health treatment of bereavement. 

The most widely known model introduced by Swiss-American psychologist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross is the Five Stages of Grief model. These stages include anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Through the use of this model, bereaved individuals learn the expected outcomes of the grieving process. 

While not every grieving individual experiences all five stages of grief, many do. Grief counselors work with the bereaved to help them find ways of coping as they learn to deal with their loss and find new meaning in their lives. While there’s no religious aspect to this type of counseling, some bereavement counselors will introduce a spiritual component to their sessions.

Spirituality in grief counseling might include learning to connect to self, meditation, and yoga. Grief therapists also use journaling and nature walks as means to connect to spirit in a non-religious way. 

What’s the Goal of Catholic Grief Counseling?

The core goals of any grief counseling service are to help you reconcile your loss and help you move past the pain and suffering associated with the death of a loved one or similar setbacks. They include:

  1. Validating the past
  2. Reconciling the present
  3. Redefining your future

Many people suffering through loss will inevitably struggle with some or all of these aspects associated with grief and bereavement. Although many will get through the initial stages of grief on their own, others will suffer through them and may find it challenging to keep moving forward. There are many reasons why individuals get stuck in their grief. A professional grief counselor can help define those reasons and unlock the necessary grief work to get through grief healthily. 

Catholic grief counseling adds some different components to the grief work process. Some common goals of Catholic grief counseling include reconnecting with your faith, finding hope through prayer, and learning once again what the bible teaches us about death and dying. What you choose to believe about death and the afterlife and how you respond to it are integral parts of Catholic grief counseling.

Religious-based grief counseling focuses on bringing back individuals struggling with their faith and religion. Many bereaved persons find it difficult to reconcile their loved one's death and begin to question not only what they learned growing up in the Church but God as well. They struggle with why God allowed their loved ones to suffer and die despite them being a good person in the Church's eyes.

Catholic grief counselors train to help their members work through these questions of faith and bring them back when grief causes them to stray from their religion or beliefs. 

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What Happens During a Catholic Grief Counseling Session?

A typical Catholic grief counseling session might include a one-on-one session with a priest, church clergy, or volunteer layperson lasting about one hour. Together you’ll outline your counseling goals and talk about what you’re going through due to your loss experience. Most sessions will include a refresher on Catholic beliefs and values and how they affect individuals seeking treatment after a significant loss. 

You can also expect to receive spiritual guidance at each of your sessions that strengthen your faith and alleviate your suffering. Your counselor may assign reading material for you to read and contemplate after each session. Other grief therapies might include journaling, reading from scripture, and singing spiritual songs. 

Grieving individuals only need to show up to their counseling sessions. The counselor will take charge of how each session will go based on your individual needs and concerns. There’s nothing for you to prepare beforehand, and you certainly won’t be asked to pass any religious test to receive services. 

How Do You Know If You Need Catholic Grief Counseling?

Grief is a natural reaction to loss, and not everyone who experiences grief will need grief counseling. Most individuals successfully process their grief within one to two years following a significant loss or the death of a loved one. However, only you can determine whether or not you need your church and religion's added support as you deal with yours.

If you have questions about God and the afterlife, are questioning your faith, or are having a hard time reconciling your beliefs with your loss, these may be indicators that you need the added support of your church. They will help you find strength through your faith, reconnect with God, and learn to lean on your Catholic faith in your darkest moments.

Even when you aren't struggling with such profound grief reactions, you might still consider getting guidance from your church on how to move through your grief successfully. 

How to Find Catholic Grief Counseling Near You

Finding Catholic grief counseling near you starts with your local or community Catholic church where you might already be a member. If you aren’t yet a member, begin by asking your Catholic friends and family to make recommendations and an introduction once you find the right fit for you.

When starting your search, there are a few key things to look for. You should start with what’s convenient to you, then look to see how much it costs, if anything, and if it’s the right fit for you. Here are some added tips to get you going in the right direction.

Do you need to be a member?

Many Catholic churches offer free bereavement and counseling services to their members and others in the community. But, while some do, not every church opens its doors to non-members.

Before investing too much of your time pursuing a particular church’s grief-support services, inquire whether you can take advantage of their services as a non-member or what it takes to join. Some churches require mandatory tithing based on your income level or your last income tax filing. 

What’s more convenient for you?

Experiencing the sudden and traumatic death of a loved one or another similarly devastating setback may put you in a bind with resources. When seeking grief counseling, consider whether it's best to receive counseling in person or participate in online grief support groups. They each have a unique advantage, and only you can decide which type of service delivers the most benefit to you. Consider the advantages and disadvantages of each in making your decision. 

Have you exhausted your resources?

Finding the right religious grief counseling services may not be as easy as you might’ve imagined. Some churches make it easy and convenient to use their grief and bereavement resources, while others make you feel like an outsider waiting to get in.

Don’t give up hope if you run against a few roadblocks. Keep asking your support group for recommendations until you land in a church that not only supports you but welcomes you as one of their own. 

Finding Faith-Based Grief Counseling 

Finding and receiving quality Catholic grief counseling is an essential step for dealing with the aftermath of a tragic loss. Your religion and spiritual upbringing play a vital role in how you process grief and accept life’s significant losses. Your loved ones and support community are some of the best resources in finding the best spiritual care and guidance for you when you need it most.

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