Grief is a profound emotion that surfaces when we face a loss. It can manifest in many forms, influenced substantially by one’s cultural roots, personal experiences, beliefs, and nature.
Through grief counselling, people can identify healthy strategies to cope with their loss and foster healing.
What Is Grief Counselling?
Grief counselling is a specialised therapy designed to help individuals navigate the complex emotions of losing a loved one.
The primary objective of this approach is to facilitate the grieving process. In addition, grief counselling helps individuals to find healthy ways to cope with their feelings.
Grief counselling often begins with the establishment of a safe and empathetic environment. This initial stage is crucial for fostering a sense of trust between the therapist and the client.
The therapeutic relationship is built on a foundation of understanding. Therapists provide a safe space for clients to express their emotions without fear of judgement.
Clients are encouraged to explore and process the emotions accompanying loss throughout counselling.
Additionally, people tend to believe that only those who have suffered a bereavement experience grieving.
However, several life-altering changes, like the loss of a job or a breakup, can also lead to feelings of grief.
The Stages of Grief
Counsellors trained in grief management can help individuals work through the stages of grief. They impart tools and techniques to deal with the associated stressors.
Psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross originally outlined the stages of grief. It serves as a framework to help individuals understand the grieving process.
These stages are not linear, and individuals may experience them in a different order or even revisit them over time. The stages are as follows:
The Different Types of Grief
Grief encompasses various emotions and reactions individuals experience after losing a loved one. There are several types of grief, each presenting distinct challenges based on the kind of loss.
1. Complicated Grief
Complicated grief, also known as persistent complex bereavement disorder, is characterised by intense, prolonged emotional pain and difficulty in daily functioning.
This form of suffering does not follow the typical progression of healing and often requires professional intervention. Grief counselling can help individuals navigate this complicated experience.
Severe signs include:
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Struggles to recall pleasant memories of the lost person
- Avoidance of anything that evokes memories of the cherished one
- Diminished self-awareness
- Withdrawal and seclusion from relatives and friends
- Lack of motivation to create plans or pursue interests
2. Traumatic Grief
Traumatic grief occurs when an individual suddenly, unexpectedly, or violently loses a loved one. The distress associated with this loss is magnified by the shock and trauma surrounding the event.
To support those experiencing traumatic grief, mental health professionals may incorporate trauma-focused therapies alongside traditional grief counselling approaches.
3. Broken Heart
Broken Heart Syndrome, or stress-induced cardiomyopathy, is a severe but rare physical manifestation of grief.
This temporary heart condition can mimic the symptoms of a heart attack and is often triggered by an overwhelming emotional event, such as the loss of a loved one.
Most people who encounter this sort of grief tend to recover in a few days or weeks. However, some may require grief counselling to manage and cope with their emotions during this difficult time.
This is because counselling can be beneficial in addressing the subconscious or repressed thoughts and feelings.
4. Depression and Grief
Depression and grief are closely related yet distinct experiences.
While grief typically involves a range of fluctuating emotions, depression is marked by persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and a lack of interest in daily activities.
Working with a therapist can clarify the differences between the two, as a treatment for depression may differ from grief counselling.
For example, mental health professionals can guide in identifying and addressing the specific needs of those experiencing depression in the context of grief.
In addition, unresolved grief can also lead to feelings of depression, anxiety, and listlessness.
During these situations, people may resort to detrimental habits such as self-blame or depending on substances like alcohol to cope with their emotions.
Myths and Facts About Grief
Grief is an inevitable emotion everyone experiences at some point in life, often as a response to loss. Despite its universality, there are numerous misconceptions surrounding this emotional state.
In this section, we will debunk common myths and facts about grief.
Grief follows a specific, linear progression of stages.
Everyone grieves differently, and these stages may happen in any order, overlap, or even be skipped entirely.
It’s necessary to “stay strong” in the face of loss.
It’s okay, and indeed healthy, to express and share feelings of sadness, anger, or confusion that come with grief.
If you grieve correctly, you should be “over it” within a year.
There’s no set timeline for grief. Grief can ebb and flow and can be triggered by specific dates, events, or reminders even years after the loss.
Crying is a necessary part of the grief process.
Crying is a common response to sorrow, but it’s not the only way to express grief. Some people may not cry at all but still experience deep feelings of loss.
Once you’ve grieved, you’ll never feel that pain again.
Even after significant healing, waves of grief can still resurface. This doesn’t mean you’re regressing—it’s simply part of the complex nature of grief.
Grief only happens after death.
Grief can be a response to any loss or change in life circumstances. This could include ending a relationship, losing a job, or moving away from home.
Moving on from grief means forgetting about the loss.
Moving on doesn’t mean ignoring the pain. Instead, it involves learning to live with the loss whilst finding ways to remember and honour it.
Seeking professional help for grief means you’re weak or incapable of managing your feelings.
Grief can be overwhelming and complicated, and therapists can provide valuable support for navigating it. Everyone needs help sometimes, and it’s okay to ask for it.
Benefits of Grief Counselling in Singapore
1) Reduces emotional distress: Grief counselling can help individuals reduce or eliminate emotional distress, such as anxiety, depression, and guilt. Often, guilt may arise from perceived inadequacies in one’s actions when the deceased was alive or the belief that one is not grieving enough.
2) Facilitates understanding of grief stages: Grief counsellors help individuals grasp the stages of grief and loss, allowing them to engage with their thoughts and emotions more intensely. This understanding paves the way for healing as they are more aware of their feelings and behaviours.
3) Reinforces the individuality of grief: Grief counselling can remind individuals that there is no correct method for grieving. People may feel they are not grieving properly, either by not being sad enough or grieving for too long. Counselling helps in validating the uniqueness of each person’s experience. It shows people that there is no right or wrong way to grieve.
4) Provides a safe space for honouring the deceased: Grief counselling creates a safe environment for people to talk about their deceased loved ones without experiencing additional trauma. Sharing thoughts and feelings about the deceased and honouring their memory can be a significant source of comfort and relief during the grieving process.
5) Expands the concept of grief: Counselling helps people understand that grief can stem from various types of loss, not just the death of a loved one. For example, grief may result from losing a pet, experiencing a divorce, moving away from family and friends, or receiving a terminal illness diagnosis.
6) Encourages self-care practices: Grief can profoundly impact an individual’s physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing. Grief counselling can guide individuals towards self-care strategies to help them cope and recover. These may include mindfulness practices, exercise, and ensuring adequate sleep.
Grief Counselling Techniques and Interventions
This section outlines six common grief counselling techniques and interventions that mental health professionals use to support clients.
1. Talk Therapy
Talk therapy is often the foundation of grief counselling. This technique provides clients with a safe and supportive environment to express their feelings and share memories. Through online grief counselling or face-to-face sessions, therapists can help clients talk through their emotions.
Many people often find bereavement group counselling helpful, as they get to interact with other people who understand the pain and emotion of grief.
2. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
CBT is another intervention that can be effective in grief counselling. It focuses on identifying negative thoughts and beliefs that can exacerbate grief and teaches clients to replace them with more adaptive alternatives.
This approach encourages clients to develop healthier coping strategies and can lead to long-term improvements in wellbeing.
Mindfulness is a technique that emphasises non-judgmental awareness of the present moment. In grief counselling, mindfulness exercises can help clients become more attuned to their emotions and cultivate self-compassion.
This practice can be particularly beneficial in promoting acceptance and easing emotional pain.
4. Complicated Grief Treatment
CGT is a targeted intervention for those experiencing intense or prolonged grief symptoms. CGT combines traditional grief counselling elements with CBT and interpersonal therapy techniques. This approach aims to help clients address unresolved emotions, rebuild their lives, and find meaning after loss.
CGT borrows from seven core elements:
5. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy
ACT is a powerful approach for individuals dealing with grief. ACT encourages clients to accept their emotional pain and the reality of loss to help them move on.
The approach also focuses on taking active steps towards working on their personal values. This is usually monitored by assisting clients in distancing themselves from their experiences to understand them better. The process of distancing oneself provides a more objective idea of their emotions.
Therapists help clients focus on their future goals. This process creates a greater sense of purpose and converts self-awareness into actionable steps that they can take to work through their grief.
Rituals are a technique of grief counselling that provides a sense of structure and continuity. In grief counselling, therapists can guide clients in creating personalised rituals that honour their loved one’s memory to help them cope with the loss.
Activities like hosting a farewell ceremony, writing a letter, or conversing with the deceased person usually take place. By employing these symbolic acts, counselling can provide the space to physically or emotionally express painful emotions.
Grief Counselling for Children
Grief is a universal experience. Everyone has suffered or will suffer a loss at some point, and the loss affects everyone differently. However, young children process and understand grief very differently when compared to adults.
The age and stage of development have a significant impact on how children understand the death of a loved one.
In the early years of childhood, between two and four years old, children are still developing their grasp of language and the world around them. At this stage, they may not comprehend the permanence of death and may view it as temporary.
As a result, they may struggle to express their feelings, which can manifest as behavioural changes or regression in development. A child psychologist can help them cope with this.
From five to eight years old, children begin to understand the finality of death, but they may still have difficulty grasping its abstract nature.
They may ask questions about the deceased, such as where they are and when they will return. At this stage, it is crucial to provide age-appropriate explanations and reassurance.
Children between nine and twelve years old have a more sophisticated understanding of death and can comprehend the emotional implications of loss.
Hence, they may experience various feelings, including sadness, anger, and fear.
How Does Grief Counselling Help Children?
Grief counselling can assist children in processing their emotions and comprehending the concept of loss.
Therapists create a safe and nurturing environment where children can openly express their feelings and ask questions.
They encourage honest discussions about the deceased and provide clear, age-appropriate explanations about the nature of death.
Usually, therapists incorporate creative outlets, such as drawing, writing, or role-playing, to help children articulate their emotions and make sense of their grief.
Support networks, including family and friends, can also provide comfort and guidance for children as they navigate the grieving process.
Grief Counselling for Teens
Adolescents have a deeper understanding of grief and loss compared to younger children.
However, they may lack the healthy coping strategies often found in adults. This absence of coping mechanisms can make processing grief exceptionally difficult for teenagers.
Grief can be an overpowering experience, and young individuals may find it hard to manage their emotions, thoughts, or physical sensations.
This lack of control may cause fear in some teens, leading them to suppress their feelings. They do this to avoid alienation and blend in with their peers.
Teenagers naturally strive for independence and may emphasise this inclination when confronted with a loss.
Consequently, they may distance themselves from adults and others who could offer support, resulting in social isolation.
Lacking an outlet or assistance from those around them, teenagers may resort to harmful behaviours, such as alcohol and substance abuse or engaging in risky sexual activities, to escape their pain.
Grief counselling for teens can be an effective way to cope with these feelings.
How Does Grief Counselling Help Teens?
Counselling can provide a space where teenagers can initiate conversations and discuss their feelings. In this therapeutic space, they usually control their grief journey.
The therapist guides them and provides support and techniques to grieve safely. In addition, grief counselling also acts as a tool to reassure them that their reactions are normal and allows them to grieve at their own pace.
Lastly, teenagers’ relationships with their family, friends, and community can significantly affect their response to and coping with loss.
Therefore, it can be beneficial to recognise the importance of social connections and their influence on grief.
In conclusion, if one does not make space for a healthy outlet for grief, it can result in detrimental habits such as self-blame or reliance on unhealthy coping strategies.
Working with a counsellor to manage grief can significantly improve the quality of life and bring new meaning to life after loss.
Know the signs.
Our Therapists Who Can Help
Have you considered counselling in Singapore to navigate grief? Below are some of our Singaporean Therapists who may be able to assist.
Psychotherapist & Counsellor
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