Family Grief Counseling: Purpose + What to Expect


Grief is the emotional pain and suffering experienced after losing a loved one or suffering another type of traumatic loss in life. When a family experiences loss and suffers through the pain and sorrow associated with grief, they may need the added support of a professional counselor. This type of professional can help them work through the most challenging moments of their grief journey as a family. 

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Feeling sad after a significant loss is a normal part of grieving. But when the symptoms of grief persist within a family or any one of its members, it may be time to seek professional grief counseling. Although there’s no specific timeline for grief, getting the needed help early on helps the healing process for everyone affected by the loss.

What is Family Counseling for Grief and Loss?

There are a variety of factors that can affect the way individuals react to loss. Relationships, past experiences, and cultural nuances are considerations that shape a person's grief reactions. While most people can work through the stages of grief on their own, others may struggle even though they have the love and support of their families.  

Family counseling for grief and loss aims to bring the family together to deal with their feelings and emotions. Counseling also helps everyone work through how the loss has affected each individual. 

A family that’s experiencing grief over the death of a loved one, or a different type of significant loss, may find themselves unable to overcome their pain and sorrow. Parents who are dealing with grieving children are likely suffering themselves through the pain of their loss. For the first time, most individuals experiencing loss may not fully understand how grief works or what to expect in the weeks and months following their loss, let alone how to help their children grieve. 

What Is the Purpose of Family Grief Counseling?

Just as there are many different types of loss, different types of grief affect individuals and families. Family-focused grief therapy is a time-limited intervention that’s effective in helping families work through their grief. Family grief counseling is helpful and effective in assisting families in communicating better, functioning more cohesively, and healthily resolving their conflicts.

The effects of grief are not confined strictly to the adults in the family. Grief affects the entire family regardless of age or experience with grief. During bereavement, individual family members may struggle with processing their feelings and emotions. When this happens, they are likely to take their pain, anger, and frustration out on the other family members.

Misplaced emotions can affect the entire family and make it very challenging to cope with loss. A family grieving together typically lends support to one another while grieving and moving forward together in the face of sorrow. Families who are affected by dysfunction or estrangement may have a more challenging time dealing with their emotions. 

Without proper support and intervention, bereaved families are at a higher risk of experiencing psychological distress and may suffer from significantly higher levels of depression.

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What Typically Happens During a Family Grief Counseling Session?

When you've decided that the time is right for your family to seek grief counseling, you'll find that you have choices in the type of treatment that your family receives. Not all counseling is created equal. You'll need to do some research to find the right fit for you and your family. Of those choices, you may find that you can request family group sessions with a counselor, individual sessions, or a combination of both.

The counselor will sit together with the family for the initial visit to discuss everyone's needs and desired outcomes for their grief counseling sessions. The counselor may suggest that each member experience one-on-one counseling before delving into the group sessions.

Grief counseling is the opportunity for grieving individuals to sit and talk with a professional counselor about their grief experiences and how they affect their everyday lives. The grief counselor's responsibility is to listen and offer guidance based on an individual's goals while considering the family dynamic. The counselor will then suggest ways of coping to help family members process their grief.

What Situations Is Family Grief Counseling Usually For?

Families dealing with grief-related issues won't all suffer in the same way. Grieving is an individual process for each member of the family and the family as a unit. One family's way of processing grief will be entirely different from someone else's family dealing with the same type of loss.

While there's no timeline for grief, and there's no telling how long grief will last, a highly experienced family grief counselor will consider the family dynamic when proposing a level of treatment along with a treatment schedule. 

Many different situations call for the intervention of family grief counseling. Some of the more common reasons a family might seek professional help are that at least one of its members has difficulty coping with their loss. Even the most well-functioning families who consider themselves supportive and conflict-free may have problems maintaining the family unit cohesion and mutual support among its members.

Some signs and symptoms related to an abnormal response to grief are when a member experiences adverse reactions and outcomes due to their grieving. The typical signs indicating that a family member is having difficulties processing their grief may include:

  • Acting sullen and depressed
  • Overreacting to normal situations
  • Withdrawing from others
  • Exuding interpersonal conflict
  • Lacking interest in daily activities

Tips for Finding a Good Family Grief Counselor

Family-focused grief therapy is widely available in most areas. Finding a good family grief counselor either in person or online is relatively easy using today's technology. You'll want to assess your family's needs and willingness to participate in therapy before starting your search.

Treatment isn't for everyone, and some of your family members may not be receptive to the idea. There are excellent grief counselors available who have experience in making individuals feel comfortable with receiving counseling. Here are a few tips for finding the right one for you and your family.

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Have a family meeting

Finding the right family grief counselor for you begins with open communication with all the family members affected. Realizing it's time to seek outside intervention is one of the first steps to getting help for you and your family. Every individual and family will grieve in different ways.

No two people will ever process their grief like the next, even when they've all suffered the same loss. Recognizing how people grieve differently is vital to understanding the grieving process and why specific grief reactions differ from person to person. Ensure that everyone's on board with getting treatment and the type of treatment desired, such as group sessions or individual therapy.

Consider special needs

When dealing with a current loss, it helps to consider everyone's past experiences that lend themselves to the recent loss. When people grieve, their reactions are a combination of past experiences and traumas suffered. Past grief that has yet to be treated tends to show up whenever an individual experiences new losses. This combination of unresolved grief keeps building one on top of another, resulting in complicated grief. 

It may be that certain family members have yet to deal with past issues that are making them react in ways that don't make any sense to the rest of the family. When this happens, family conflict tends to escalate because of the failure to recognize the family's type of grief needing resolution.

Ask for recommendations

Reach out to your family, friends, and local community for recommendations on a good grief counselor to serve your family's needs. Consider that not everyone will be open to talking about their experience with counseling or treatment for their grief. And they may not be receptive to sharing or admitting who they've been to see. Our society has yet to normalize grief and grieving completely. The subject of getting counseling is still a relatively rare topic of discussion. 

If you find yourself running into roadblocks, consider reaching out to community resources like your local hospital's chaplaincy department. Most hospitals provide referral services free of charge to community members where they serve.

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Interview each candidate

Even the most highly recommended grief counselors may not be the right ones for you and your family. One of the key ways of finding the right match for your family is to take the time to vet each grief counselor recommended. Although the process can be long and exhausting, taking the time to interview each potential candidate will pay off. 

Consider asking the counselor their views on any issues or unique characteristics that make up your family's dynamic. You'll want to ensure that whoever you choose makes you and your family members feel comfortable and welcomed. Set a time limit for how long the interview process will take before making your final selection to avoid getting bogged down with this portion of the process.

Develop a good rapport

Each relationship with a grief counselor begins with a specific need. The grieving process is a long and complicated road for almost anyone dealing with the death of a loved one or another significant loss. The success of each counseling session dramatically depends on trust and relationship-building. Your family and your family's grief counselor will need to learn to trust each other when working through your grief. 

Although grief counselors are highly trained individuals who know how to communicate with grieving families, their ability to connect and serve each member depends on the willingness of each to receive the needed help. When issues arise with your grief counselor, address them as soon as possible to maintain the integrity of your relationship.

Family Grief Counseling Promotes Healthy Relationships

Family grief counseling exists to help maintain a family's unity during a time of grief. It also helps each family member learn to cope with the pain and sorrow of their loss personally. A family who recognizes that they need help moving through their loss will almost always work through the issues affecting them due to traumatic experiences. Grief counseling doesn't guarantee a particular result but does encourage a healthy way of healing. 

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