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What does a Grief Therapist do?

By Lily Ruha
Updated May 17, 2024
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A grief therapist helps people cope with the death of loved ones and the loss of relationships. There is a distinction between grief counseling and grief therapy. Grief counselors guide individuals immediately following a loss and assist them to resume their lives; grief therapists assist those who exhibit complicated and extensive reactions to loss.

A grief therapist works carefully with clients to come to terms with the death of a loved one or other loss. If the loss resulted from a sudden accident, clients will often have experienced shock, disbelief, denial or outrage. In this case, the therapist encourages the client to talk openly about the accident as a way of coming to terms with the reality of the death. In some cases, the client might be inclined to avoid the subject by focusing on other difficulties in life. The grief therapist continually guides the client back to dealing with the loss and related issues.

In some cases, grief therapy requires educating the client on the various stages of grief. Denial, anger, depression, bargaining and acceptance are stages through which a grieving individual could pass. An individual might be stuck in one of these stages, in which case a grief therapist helps the grieving patient to become unstuck. A young widow, for example, who remains depressed for years upon losing her husband would be encouraged to talk about her feelings. Through grief therapy, she would eventually come to terms with the loss and see the possibility of finding love again.

There are a number of reasons why people have difficulty moving on after the death of a loved one. The role of a grief therapist is to identify the core reason. Sudden death, watching a loved one die from a degenerative disease, unresolved conflicts in the relationship and emotional or financial dependence on the deceased are some of the issues with which a therapist helps a client cope. Through a series of one-on-one meetings or group therapy sessions, a grief therapist helps to uncover unresolved issues and feelings, and assists the client in achieving the kind of closure necessary for moving forward in life.

There are a number of signs indicating that a person is in need of a grief therapist. Being stuck in the grieving process for an extensive period of time generally indicates further therapy may be needed. Developing emotional and psychological issues, such as depression, phobias or anxiety disorders, is another sign. Some people who cannot come to terms with the death of a close friend or relative also develop physical symptoms, such as becoming physically sick on the anniversary of the death, and may benefit from the help of a grief therapist.

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