grief counseling - a man sitting on a bench grieving

Grief Counseling & The Grief Cycle

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Throughout life, grief comes to us at some point. Usually, it is caused by the loss of a loved one, or it can occur due to a disablement, separation, miscarriage, other life changes such as an illness, loss of a job, a natural disaster, and even ageing.

The pain you experience on losing a loved one can feel unbearable. Grief is complicated, and you sometimes wonder if the pain will ever end. You go through different emotional experiences such as anger, sadness, and confusion.

Healing from a loss can be difficult, but it is possible. Be patient as it takes time. Resources like support groups and counselling can help you cope with it. 

The 5 Stages of Grief and How Grief Counseling Can Help

A Swiss American psychiatrist “Elisabeth Kübler-Ross” wrote in his book “On Death and Dying” that the grief process consists of five primary stages. These stages are popularly referred to as DABDA and collectively known as the Grief Cycle.

The below-mentioned stages are not linear, and it is quite possible that some people may not experience any of them or others might undergo two stages, rather than all five, one stage, three stages, etc. So, let’s discuss them one by one.

Denial

Denial is that the first stage of the grief process that will initially assist you survive the loss. You might think that life has no meaning, makes no sense, and is too overwhelming. You start to deny the news of the loss, in effect, go numb. In this stage, you might also wonder how life will go in this different state. If your lab reports came out and you were diagnosed with a deadly disease, you might believe that a mistake must have occurred in the lab, or they mixed up your blood sample with someone else.

In the denial stage, you’re living in a preferable reality instead of living in actual reality. This denial can be positive and offer benefits. It aids in pacing your feelings of grief. We deny the grief, don’t accept it, and stagger its full impact on us on just one occasion. You can consider it as a defence mechanism. Your brains let in only as much you can handle at the time.

Anger

Denial is often followed by anger. It is a natural part of the healing process. In this stage, most people think, “why me?” and blame others for their situation. Sometimes this anger may be directed to an external source such as friends, family members, or even someone who died. It is also possible in this stage to question your belief in God.

Mental health professionals and researchers believe that anger is a necessary stage of grief. The more quickly you will heal if the more honestly you feel the anger. So, never try to suppress the feeling of anger. Think of anger as a strength to shift you to reality.

You can also consult with a professional grief counsellor who can help you find constructive outlets for your anger. So you don’t strain your personal and professional relationships.

Bargaining

Once their anger goes away, people in grief may start making a deal with God in an attempt to turn back time and undo the loss. If the loss involves someone very close, bargaining is likely to involve a promise to God or perform some tasks to have their loved one returned. You can call this stage a false hope. You might believe that you can avoid grief through some negotiation, but the truth is you can’t.

At this point, it is essential to exercise self-compassion. Bargaining is not going to bring any long-term solutions. Grief counselling can help you express your need to bargain without getting stuck in expectations of results.

Depression

Depression is a commonly accepted form of grief. It is a “Present” emotion. That’s why people associate depression immediately with grief. Depression involves the feeling of numbness, fear, hopelessness, uncertainty, loss of appetite, and changes in sleeping patterns. Like Anger, Depression may be a regular and necessary part of the grief process and should not be avoided. In this stage, you don’t feel like talking, don’t want to be around others, and experience feelings of hopelessness. Consult with a professional counsellor who can help you work through your depression. So, it doesn’t overwhelm your functioning ability.

Acceptance

Acceptance is the last and final stage of the grieving process identified by Kübler-Ross. In this stage, we accept the loss, incorporate it into our lives, and move forward again. You accept the new reality that your partner is never coming back.

While anger and depression may still occur from time to time during the acceptance stage, they become less relevant as we move forward. In this stage, you start to engage with friends again and make new friends and relationships as time goes on.

Grief Counseling Techniques

Once circumstances surrounding the loss are successfully established, the subsequent step is to manoeuvre towards specific grief counselling techniques, which includes::

  • Let them talk about the deceased – a grief counsellor should encourage the grieving person to talk about the deceased’s life in a safe space. Let them talk about the person, what they looked like, what were their hobbies?
  • Distinguish grief from trauma – if someone feels traumatized from the circumstances surrounding a loved one’s death, a grief counsellor can help them readjust their outlook on those memories.
  • Addressing the feeling of guilt – Some people may feel guilty about what they did or didn’t do while their beloved was alive. Grief counsellor should encourage them to let go of the guilt or even to allow themselves to forget their loved ones for a bit of a while and commit to living a life that will honour the deceased.

Conclusion

You need to remember that everyone copes with loss differently. Be patient, allow yourself to process your emotions, and speak about your experience with your friends, family member, or healthcare professional. Above all, celebrate your loved one and commit to living life in a way that would honour their life.

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