Grief is a personal experience that each person must work through on their terms. The effects of loss belong to each person suffering from it, and only they understand how they feel.
The journey through grief has many aspects commonly shared with others who’ve experienced a similar loss. However, it’s difficult for anyone else to know exactly how another grieving individual feels. Shared experiences differ due to personal setbacks, individual histories, and past traumas.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Goals of Individual Grief Counseling for Adults
- Goals of Individual Grief Counseling for Children
- Goals of Group Grief Counseling or Support Groups
Individual and group grief counseling exists to aid in the process of grief in a healthy way. Group counseling brings together individuals with similar losses to lend additional comfort and support to members in ways that only those with personal experience can.
The goals of individual counseling for adults and children are comparable. Depending on the type of grief experienced, a grieving person may do better with one counseling format over another.
Goals of Individual Grief Counseling for Adults
Individuals coping with the death of a loved one generally have access to different grief resources within their communities and online. One of those is grief counseling by skilled professionals trained in meeting the needs of the bereaved.
Bereaved adults at times might exhibit some or all of the initial stages of grief: shock, denial, anger, bargaining, and acceptance. Some goals of grief counseling for adults are to help facilitate the grieving process while adapting to a loss.
As time goes on, grief counseling goals shift to finding new meaning and purpose in life. The following list represents different stages of the grieving process for adults.
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Adapting to loss
Responses to loss differ from one person to another. Bereaved individuals may have a challenging time adjusting to a new reality without their loved ones in it. When setting up their initial counseling trajectories, trained grief counselors consider a grieving individual's personality, preferences, values, and goals.
Grief counselors spend time dealing with the emotional consequences of loss, and helping individuals adapt to the subsequent changes in their lives and learn to live life in a new reality.
Meaning-making is about answering the big “why” question. Whenever a person suffers a significant or traumatic loss, they often ask why this happened to them or their loved one. They don’t understand the reasons why God or the Universe had to take their loved one away, or why they had to suffer through a traumatic experience when they didn’t deserve it.
Grief counselors help find personal meaning in loss by exploring past experiences, their relationship with their loved one, and how their tragedy shapes their lives. A mother who’s lost her child, for example, might benefit from shifting her sorrow into productive energy to help other parents struggling with loss.
The consequences of loss are many. Grieving individuals suffer from internal, external, and spiritual adjustments after suffering significant setbacks. Adverse grief reactions begin to creep into their everyday lives, affecting their relationships at home, within their social circles, and at work.
Unfortunately, many people get stuck in their grief without renewed hope, finding it challenging to move on after loss. Grief counseling helps shed light on grief's impact on the life of those suffering through loss. For example, a father whose child was murdered might show misplaced anger toward his spouse, family, or coworkers, affecting his relationships without realizing the effects of his actions.
One of the goals of grief counseling focuses on maintaining a relationship with the deceased even after their death. Staying connected might include talking to the person who died as if they were still there, looking at old photographs while thinking of them, or writing a letter to tell them how they’re coping. Staying connected is an integral part of the healing process and helps lend meaning to the life and legacy of a deceased loved one.
Goals of Individual Grief Counseling for Children
There are different types of grief, and they affect individuals according to factors such as age, maturity level, and past experiences. Children experience distress in many of the same ways that adults do.
Individual grief counseling for children aims at helping young people understand and cope with their responses to loss. Children’s grief reactions include sadness, fear, shame, and anger, among other emotions common in bereaved individuals. The following are some aims of grief counseling for children with some examples.
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Help them grieve in a healthy way
Children who experience a significant loss in life, like the death of a loved one or another type of substantial trauma, will feel the effects of their loss but may not know how to express their emotions. Understandably, children act out in ways that are unusual for them and sometimes aggressive and destructive.
Some children will react in opposite ways by withdrawing from their social groups, friends, and families. Grief counseling for children helps them learn how to release these emotions in healthy and non-destructive methods. A child who turns violent at school in response to their grief, for example, will receive intervention to teach them how to redirect their energy.
Understand their emotions
Many children don’t know how to ask for the help they need when facing trauma and loss. The adults in their lives often neglect children’s grief because they think children are too young to understand death and dying or because the adults are too busy dealing with their feelings and emotions to pay much attention to the children.
Grief counseling aims at helping children understand their feelings and grief reactions resulting from loss. Because most children are too young to have significant exposure to death, they have little understanding of what they’re going through when they experience the death of a loved one or other type of loss. For example, when a parent or sibling dies, children often blame themselves regardless of how their loved one died.
Adjust to life after loss
When someone such as a parent or another close family member dies, children feel the same pain of loss as adults do, but they don’t yet know how to express themselves. Most children react to their grief by acting out in ways that may seem out of character for them.
A grief counselor helps children express their emotions and teaches them how to adjust to their lives without their loved one. A child who’s acting out after a significant loss may not know how to say what they’re going through, so they act out their emotions, causing behavioral problems. Grief counselors guide bereaved children in adjusting to their new life after loss.
Move through their grief
Children don’t always understand the reasons their loved ones have to die. Many times they blame themselves and carry their emotional wounds and trauma into adulthood. A skilled counselor can help grieving children understand that their loved one’s death isn’t their fault.
Counselors help children know that the pain, sorrow, and confusion they feel won’t last forever. The feelings of shame and guilt that many children carry with them will also pass. Grief counseling helps children recognize and adapt to their loss so that they can heal from their wounds and continue into healthy and well-adjusted adulthood.
Goals of Group Grief Counseling or Support Groups
Your grief journey will have many aspects that mirror others who’ve experienced a similar loss. However, your reactions to your loss will never be the same as anyone else’s. The way you experience grief is unique.
You’d be correct to think that no one else knows how you feel, especially if others you know haven’t had a similar loss. Although no one knows how you’re feeling exactly, joining a grief counseling or support group comprised of others with similar shared experiences will help you process your grief. Here are some common goals of these types of support groups.
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Provide emotional support
Significant loss is a universal experience. When you join others who've shared a similar loss, you have an opportunity to lend each other emotional support and offer advice on how to deal with the type of loss you've experienced.
Finding and joining a support group that resonates with your needs requires reflecting on your setbacks and particular needs. Not every group will be the right one for you despite the similarities in the losses you're confronting.
Validation of grief experience
Group grief counseling sessions allow you to tell your story. Talking about your experience is one of the most therapeutic and healing ways to get through your grief. Joining a group grief counseling or support group allows you to share your story with others who’ve faced similar losses. Together, you can create a welcoming and safe environment to talk about your losses without judgment or the fear of reprisal.
Whether a trained grief professional leads the group or a series of volunteers, grief support groups provide a setting where bereaved individuals can freely share what they’ve learned throughout their grief journey.
This network of others who know and understand what you’re going through is invaluable when learning about loss and how to deal with the most challenging aspects of grief. Your group leader or moderator doesn’t need to be a trained professional to share with others their experiences and what they did to overcome the debilitating grief they went through.
Growing through loss
Bereaved individuals dealing with significant loss sometimes feel that their grief will never end. They find it impossible to imagine a life without their loved one in it or reclaim the part they lost due to trauma.
Grief groups allow you to start working through your loss with the guidance of others who’ve been through similar experiences. Practical grief work requires you to not only talk about your loss but to do something about it. Together, you can support and motivate each other to actively participate in healing after loss.
The Purposes of Grief Counseling
While not every grieving individual will need professional grief counseling or the support of a grief group, those who participate in either option seem to move past their grief quicker and in healthier ways.
Most people will effectively work through their grief on their own after the first 12 months or so post-loss. However, grief support groups and counseling open the door to a different approach to getting past the pain and sorrow following a loss.