Do I need grief counseling? If I do when do I start?

March 1, 2021

By Ken Barringer

Grief counseling, like grief itself, is very individualized and specific to the bereaved. If you were
to observe several individual’s I counsel for grief those sessions would all look quite different.
What accounts for these differences? For starters, the counselees relationship they had with
the deceased, cause of death and when they died. Furthermore, where are they in their grief
process and how long have they been living with grief? Their resources, support network and
resilience factors have to be considered as well. I have met with people 2 weeks after the death
and the death was sudden and traumatic. I have met with people 2 years after a death that was
after a long illness. And vice versa. Grief and types of death vary across the lifespan and thus
support needs to be varied for different ages and stages.

Some enter grief counseling at a place in their lives where they are trying to just get through
every day and manage what is in front of them. That person may be looking for strategies to
stay balanced and take care of what they need to – childcare, paying bills, going to work or
school. A focus on building skills might make these sessions more “product” based.

Others enter grief counseling where perhaps they want to talk through their relationship with
the deceased. Once we say something out loud it becomes real and we can start to manage the
loss from different perspectives. These sessions might be more “process” oriented.

Not everyone who experiences a loss needs or benefits from counseling. What makes someone
a good candidate for individual or group counseling? Individual counseling works from the
inside out – processing the narrative in your mind - and group counseling works from the
outside in – getting validated and normalized by those with you in the group. Some are a better
candidate for a different type of intervention such as energy tapping, EMDR, journaling, a
committed exercise program or some combination of several things.

There are as many paths out of grief but all paths lead you through grief. Thus, the most
difficult step might be the first one. To make the commitment to truly look at what pains us is
the way to start living fully. Some stop coming to counseling because they “still feel the same,
even though they come” or feel “worse” since starting. Grief counseling isn’t about people
having problems that a counselor helps them solve. People come to counseling because
something sad and tragic happened and now we’re figuring out how to go forward with it. If
someone feels “worse” it might be because they are doing great work on a painful matter. That
would seem to bode well for the future and living well.

Grief will wait for you for whenever you want to take a look. No rush.