What Is Grief Therapy?
Grief therapy is a form of psychotherapy that aims to help people cope with the physical, emotional, social, spiritual and cognitive responses to loss. The theory behind grief therapy is to identify what stage you’re in the grieving process and determine what steps to take from there. The seven stages of grief are denial, anger, guilt, bargaining, depression, acceptance and closure. Establishing what stage you are in can help determine where to focus your attention and heal.
Suffering a loss can make you feel that your whole world has collapsed, yet even in the deepest despair, there’s always hope. People who are grieving might appear to be strong in front of their family, friends and peers. This is a common trait among most of us, however not dealing with the feelings of loss when they come up may prolong the grieving process.
The first stage is Denial
Being in denial doesn’t mean you literally don’t know your loved one has died. It simply means you come home and you can’t believe your loved one isn’t going to walk through the door or return from their fishing trip. Denial may appear as shock or feeling numb. It can show up as a dream we think we’re having or disbelief and the mind can’t fully process it.
We might wonder how we can go on or why we should go on. Denial is nature’s way of letting us know how much we can handle and helps us cope with our feelings of grief. Which is a good thing. It’s also a mechanism for preventing all the feelings associated with loss coming in all at once. That would be overwhelming.
Denial also brings about questions of how and why?
Once you start asking questions, the reality of the loss begins to sink in. As you accept the reality of the loss and start to ask questions, you’re unknowingly beginning the healing process. You become stronger and denial is beginning to fade. But as you proceed all the feelings you were denying begin to surface.
The second stage is Anger
Anger begins when denial ends, and it doesn’t have to be logical or valid. You could be angry at your loved one for leaving or not taking care of themselves. You could be angry at yourself for not seeing it coming or angry with the doctors for not saving your loved one.
Then more feelings surface, anger is usually the carrier for sadness, panic, hurt and loneliness. These feelings appear after you start functioning at a normal pace. Anger is a necessary stage of the healing process. Be willing to feel your anger, even though it may seem endless. The more you truly feel it, the more it will begin to dissipate and the more you heal.
The best ways to deal with anger is to acknowledge it. Embrace it. Don’t suppress it. Let it out! Talk to a friend or counsellor. Go for a walk, run or hike. Any kind of exercise or just scream into a pillow. Find a quiet place and let it out.
Anger is a natural emotion, by suppressing anger when it comes only makes the grieving process harder and longer. So, allow yourself to feel and be angry. The anger will subside and the feelings of loss will change form again. That brings us to the third step which is bargaining…
The third stage is Bargaining
Bargaining is when you’ll do anything to save your loved one. “Please God,” You say. “I’ll do anything you want me to do. Just let her live.” We want to go back in time to prevent the death from happening. Willing to do anything not to feel the pain of loss. So, we remain in the past, trying to negotiate our way out of the hurt. Then the ‘what if’s’ come into play. “What if I start being a better person? Then maybe god will return my loved one.” Or “What if do more good deeds?” Maybe god would reverse time so that my loved one still lives?”
The fourth stage is Guilt
Guilt is bargaining’s cousin. We may feel guilty for not being able to save our loved one or preventing the death. The ‘if only” come into play. If only I had stayed with him or if only I listened, she would be alive. Then blame follows guilt around like a dark shadow. (I felt very guilty about my mom and my cousin’s death. Not being able to help save them and prevent their suicide. Guilt was the main emotion that tormented me.) That’s when depression sets in.
The fifth stage is Depression
After guilt, empty feelings present themselves and grief enters our lives on a deeper level. This depressive state feels as though it will last forever. We want to withdraw from life and wonder if there’s any point in going on at all.
You may find just getting out of bed is a challenge. You have no desire to eat or do anything. The heavy and dark feelings that come with depression is a natural step even though our society sees it as something to be treated. In grief, depression is a way for nature to keep us protected by shutting down the nervous system so that we can adapt to something we feel we cannot handle. You might want to resist being depressed, but depression is a necessary stage in the grieving process.
When you allow yourself to experience depression, it will leave as soon as it has served its purpose in your loss. As you grow stronger, it may return from time to time but that is how grief works. It will pass.
The sixth stage is Acceptance
Acceptance is the reality that our loved one is physically gone and recognizing this new reality. To accept what is. We may not like the reality that our loved one is gone but eventually we accept it. We learn to live with it. We must try to live in a world without our loved one.
The acceptance process can take months or years before we understand, embrace, and accept what is. Our lives are forever changed and we must readjust and reorganize duties or reassign them to others or take them on ourselves. In this step, we begin to reintegrate and slowly put back the pieces in our lives. As we heal, we learn who we are and who our loved one was in life. In a way, as we move through grief, healing brings us closer to the person we loved and a new relationship begins.
We can never replace what’s lost, but we can make new connections and new relationships. We may start to reach out to others and become involved in their lives. Building new friendships, and investing in ourselves, we begin to live again. But we can’t do so until we have given grief it’s time.
The seventh stage is Closure
Closure meaning, viewing the body. Looking at your loved one’s dead body is unpleasant however it’s an important part of the grieving process. Any doubts are removed and denial ceases to exist when we see that our loved one is dead and not coming back. This gives us closure and eventually brings about peace of mind.