How to Tell If You Need Grief Counseling: 9 Signs

Updated

Almost everyone who has suffered through a significant loss is a candidate for grief counseling. Grief counseling can be a part of a suffering individual’s overall preventative healthcare plan, or it can help out in a time of crisis. Grief counseling or therapy helps bereaved individuals learn new skills and how to work through their grief, especially when they feel stuck in their sorrow and unable to move forward in life after a significant loss. 

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Therapy helps shift the mindset and the emotional reactions to loss as experienced during the different stages of grief. A proper bereavement counseling plan helps grieving individuals adjust to their changed circumstances to lead a happy and productive life after loss. Nearly all adults will experience a tragic loss or other significant setbacks. No matter when you decide to begin your grief healing journey, the results of therapy can be life-changing.

What Is Grief Counseling?

Grief counseling is the process of talking with a counselor who is specifically educated and trained to deal with death and grief issues in bereaved individuals. The most common healing methods used in this type of counseling are cognitive behavioral therapy, better known as talk therapy. Other forms might include art and music therapy as well as journaling.

Each type of counseling has its benefits, and choosing between one and another largely depends on the grieving individual's age, maturity level, and overall understanding of death.

Grief counselors and therapists guide bereaved persons by exploring the causes of grief, how to manage life after loss, and how to heal from the pain and suffering attached to significant traumas and other of life's setbacks. Counseling sessions are conducted either in-person, online, by telephone, or through video chat, and each typically lasts just under an hour.

When deciding if grief counseling is proper for you, you'll benefit from considering your comfort level in each of these different treatment methods. While some individuals will get the most from in-person meetings with their counselor, others do better receiving treatment from the comfort of their home. 

How do I know if I need grief counseling?

Although every person might benefit from exploring their grief with a professional's guidance, grief counseling isn't for everyone. For some people, recognizing the signs of prolonged or complicated grief is one of the first steps to figuring out if they need grief counseling. Others may find comfort in knowing that they have the added support and guidance of someone who knows and understands what they're going through. 

Feeling sad about the death of a loved one or another type of major loss is a normal part of the grieving process and doesn't automatically signal the need to get grief counseling. Consider your sources of support within your family, friends, and peers and gauge it against the need for professional guidance and counseling to get you through your heartache.

You may find that the social support you receive at home is enough to get you through your grief's deepest, darkest parts. Or, you may find that you can't get the guidance you need from your existing resources. These are some of the initial indicators in deciding whether you should seek professional counseling. 

Signs You or a Loved One May Be Ready for Grief Counseling

There’s no set timeline for how long you can expect to grieve. Everyone’s grief journey is as unique as the individual experiencing the loss. While the average duration of ordinary grief lasts around 12 months to two years, this doesn’t mean that everyone experiences grief in these neat timeframes.

There are a few clear measures that a person’s having a hard time coping with their loss, but other signs aren’t so obvious. If you or someone you love is struggling with grief, here are a few ways to tell whether professional intervention’s needed. 

1. Feeling stuck in grief

Feeling stuck in your grief means experiencing the inability to move forward from your loss, an intense preoccupation with the death of a loved one or another significant loss, and experiencing profound loss and mourning even after several months or years have passed.

There are other ways of feeling as though you can’t move past your grief, including the inability to stop crying, not functioning in your daily life, and constantly thinking about the deceased or the very thing you lost that you’re grieving. A grief counselor can help you take control of your grief-related thoughts, feelings, and emotions to develop a healthier way of dealing with your pain and sorrow. 

2. Nothing seems to matter

Whenever a person experiences severe loss or trauma in their life, it can be challenging to get past it. Sometimes a person might end up lost in their grief for many years, and they stop caring about the people, places, and things they used to find pleasure and joy in. These feelings go well beyond feeling out of sorts and not wanting to socialize. Your wanting to be alone becomes an obsession to the point where nothing and no one else matters.

This is a sign of unhealthy grieving, and you may need to seek counseling to help you sort out your thoughts and emotions. Grief counseling can get you back on track to living a socially healthy lifestyle, figuring out your new role in life after loss, and how to integrate back into society after a long period of disengagement. 

3. The emptiness inside keeps growing

Many newly bereaved individuals feel empty inside whether they’ve suffered the death of a close loved one, lost their job, or gone through a divorce. These feelings of emptiness are a normal part of grieving, and almost everyone will experience this until they’ve had time to process their loss and pick up the pieces.

For some people, regaining a sense of purpose comes naturally within the first year or two after loss. For others, it may take a professional to help them understand that there’s life after loss. Guided grief counseling and therapy help grieving individuals rediscover their purpose and change their perspective on how they view their loss. In time, they can see life differently and start having new and meaningful experiences.

4. Never-ending recurring thoughts

When you can't stop thinking of the person who died or the trauma and loss you've suffered to the point that these thoughts overtake your entire existence, you may benefit from seeking professional help.

Grief counselors can help you put an end to the incessant chatter going on in your mind as it relates to your grieving. They'll show you how to dissect the thoughts in your head so you can process each individually as they come up. The more adept you become at recognizing these debilitating thoughts, the easier it is for you to take control of them. 

5. Feelings of hopelessness

Feeling as if you’ve lost the will to live might indicate that it’s time to seek grief counseling. Hopelessness often sets in after the death of a close loved one. Not knowing how you’ll go on living, especially after the loss of a child or spouse, is a widespread grief reaction that doesn’t always automatically mean that you need therapy.

The psychological effects of grief after a loss can seem profoundly overwhelming. It’s not unusual for a bereaved individual to feel like life’s no longer worth living. If this is happening to you or a loved one, it may help you to talk about your feelings with someone trained in identifying severe risks to your emotional health and wellbeing.  

Signs You or a Loved One May NOT Be Ready for Grief Counseling

There’s never a wrong time to seek grief counseling after suffering through loss. Individuals who feel that they need added support to help them through their loss, at any stage in their grief journey, should seek the appropriate interventions as soon as possible.

Many people wait to seek therapy until they’ve reached the end of their coping capabilities, and they may face additional complications associated with prolonged or complicated grief reactions. Some bereaved individuals may instinctively know to hold off on getting help for several reasons. Below are some of those occasions. 

6. The wound’s too fresh

Whenever anyone goes through severe traumas in life or suffers through tragic events, feeling the full impact of the loss generally takes at least six to 12 months. Grieving individuals will typically go through shock and denial before coming to terms with their loss. Additionally, they may not readily experience the secondary losses associated with the initial loss.

While there’s nothing wrong with early grief intervention, seeking counseling too early can leave the grieving individual needing additional counseling in later months to help them restore balance in other aspects of their lives.

7. They have great support

Bereaved individuals who have a great support system at home, work, school, or in their communities may not feel the need to seek grief counseling right away. During the initial stages of grief, most people support those suffering through loss. It’s not unusual for survivors of loss or trauma to have a flood of friends and family coming through for them during the first few weeks after a loss.

When those visits and phone calls begin to die down, a person starts to feel the full effects of their grief. It takes time to adjust to all the changes resulting from the death of a close loved one, the loss of a job, or any other major life-changing event. 

8. Delayed grieving

When bereaved individuals delay the grieving process, they may not fully benefit from grief counseling because they're not ready to face their losses. Delayed grieving is typical when a survivor who has to deal with many end-of-life issues and wrapping up their loved one's estate may decide to set aside their grief until later when they can give it the full attention it deserves.

This individual won't likely benefit from grief counseling until they're ready to confront their loss and the resulting feelings and emotions. 

9. They don’t believe in counseling

Past stigmas associated with grief counseling and mental health therapy, in general, still keep many people from getting the help they need and deserve. Unfortunately for the number of individuals who think this way, no amount of coercion can get them to see a therapist.

Those who do may not approach their healing with an open mind, thus adversely affecting the overall positive effects of counseling. These individuals must first come to terms with the benefits of counseling before experiencing its maximum results. 

Getting Into the Therapy Mindset

Grief counseling isn’t right for everyone, and committing to getting help when needed takes a massive leap of faith for many individuals struggling to cope with their grief and loss. Whether you believe in it or not, you’ll know if you need grief counseling when you work to get your feelings and emotions or your life together after life deals you a significant blow, and you need additional support. 

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