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What Is Bereavement Counseling?

Bereavement counseling is designed to help people go through the process of grieving after a death. Counselors who specialize in bereavement counseling typically have a deep and thorough knowledge of human behavior as it relates to death, and may be able to help clients work through the pain and mixed bag of emotions that often comes with a serious loss. Bereavement counseling is sometimes recommended to anyone experiencing the loss of a close relative, friend, or even pet.

Humans understandably have a very complex emotional relationship with the idea of death. Though it is an inevitable fact of life, death can stir various feelings of anger, pain, betrayal, denial, bitterness, sadness, anxiety, and even relief in any given person. Add fears and worries about death to the pain felt over losing a loved one, and it is clear why bereavement counseling may be necessary. Handling a death is one of the most difficult and complex emotional situations a human may experience, and having a trusted professional that can serve as a guide, confidant, and source of objective analysis can be extremely helpful to those caught in the midst of such a volatile situation.

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No two people will experience bereavement in exactly the same way. In bereavement counseling, the therapist works to help a person handle his or her personal feelings in the order and level that they come, rather than trying to get him or her to conform to some standard process of grieving. At different times, a grieving person may feel enraged, ashamed, emotionally numb, or any of dozens of other feelings. A counselor is there to listen, assess, and come up with strategies that may help the client manage the situation in a way that helps him or her.

Bereavement counseling may also bleed into many other areas of therapy. A significant death can disrupt a person's worldview, and he or she may begin questioning life choices and dealing with long-buried issues that are brought to light by a death. Bereavement counseling can help a person go through an important period of change and personal growth by helping the client relate his feelings about the death to other life questions the situation brings up.

Depending on the situation and the wishes of the client, bereavement counseling may take place in a private setting, in a group, or in a mix of the two settings. Families experiencing a loss may want to have therapy sessions together and privately, to help them cope as a group and as individuals. There are often group sessions available for people who have lost a partner, relative, or friend to a specific illness, which allows them to meet with other people in the same situation. There is no “right” way to attend bereavement counseling; generally, whatever method of therapy provides help and comfort may be right for the given situation.

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