Grief Therapy vs Grief Counseling

Lately, I have been thinking about some of the differences between Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy.  As we [all of us, worldwide] are in the midst of a global pandemic of a disease that continues to account for many unexpected and untimely deaths, it seems reasonable to consider what grief is.

Grief, as defined and discussed by Therese A. Rando, Ph.D, an acknowledged expert in this field, is “the process of experiencing the psychological, behavioral, social, and physical reactions to the perception of loss.”  For those who want to learn more, I highly recommend any of Rando’s writings on this topic.

Every person experiences grief in his or her own way and on their own timetable.  Family members react to the loss of a family member, not as a group, but as individuals.  This is especially important to remember when spouses, parents, siblings, children and grandchildren mourn the loss of someone important to them. Every relationship that each of us has is different and unique to each one of us.  It is so important to emphasize the uniqueness of each person’s own experience of and reaction to grief, particularly when others are also reacting to the loss of the same person.

Many people ‘muddle through’ their own experience of loss and of grief, sometimes alone; often with the comfort and support of caring friends.  During the strange times we are currently living in, rituals surrounding death and dying, such as visitation and funerals, have been taken away from us.  Without these rituals of support and comfort, the bereaved may feel even more alone than they might have at other times in history.  We all know that others have also experienced the death and loss of others; death is a universal experience and so is the experience of loss.

Some, however, find that they are not able to manage the loss and the attendant grief on their own.  This is particularly the case when the death itself resulted from:

Death of a child

Sudden, unexpected death particularly when traumatic or violent

Earlier, unresolved death

Death that the mourner perceives as preventable

In my own work with people in regard to Loss, Grief and Bereavement, I always start with the client’s own experience of the death rather than the event of the death.   In the sharing of his or her experience of the death are the seeds and clues to how the individual mourner is coping and how likely his or her coping mechanisms will permit him or her to move forward in life.

What is the difference between Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy?

Counseling may be a better option than psychotherapy if: You have specific issues or short term problems you wish to address. You wish to learn coping skills to help better manage stress and improve relationships. You are coping with life transitions and adjustments, such as divorce or grief.”

Who you are and how you lived and managed your life prior to the death of a loved one or someone important in your life is key to whether you will respond well to grief counselling rather than the more intense work of grief therapy.

In my practice, I work with parents who have suffered the profound loss of a child.  For every parent who has suffered this unspeakable loss, the shock and pain of their grief is overwhelming.

The parent has suffered a profound loss, not only of the infant or child, but of the life they had and their dreams for the future.  In fact, their future, as they had envisioned it, is forever changed.

My goal is in working with a bereaved parent or parents as he or she faces life as it is now, is to assist them with the sometimes seemingly impossible challenge of moving forward in life.

I have learned there is no ‘right’ timetable not only during our work together, but even before we meet and start to work.  The bereaved parent will make the telephone call or send the email to meet the counsellor / therapist only when he or she feels ready to do so.  Typically, one parent [often the mother, but not always] will contact me and we will begin our work.  She may worry about her partner; I always suggest that each person has to find their way on their own terms and on their own timetable.

Grief counselling helps emotionally healthy people move through their experience of loss and grief to renewed life and health with the recognition that they are already building their ‘new’ life.  That life in no way excludes the child who has died; part of the process is helping the parent incorporate the child and all that he or she meant, into the parent’s being, in a gentle way that permits the bereaved to face his or her own life, moving forward.

When, during the grieving process, other psychological issues come to the fore or interrupt the grieving process, this is an indication that further, more intense work is warranted to address those issues.  Underlying and unresolved issues [not directly related to the loss of the child] need to be addressed therapeutically so that the work of loss, grief and mourning can proceed.

By Michaele-Sue Goldblatt, MSW,RSW

July 5, 2020

In her note, Megan referred to ‘therapy’.

Although I don’t typically think about the differences between ‘therapy’ and ‘counsellling’, perhaps it makes sense for me to do so, not only in relation to grief, but in general.

Here is a definition I found on google:

Counseling may be a better option than psychotherapy if: You have specific issues or short term problems you wish to address. You wish to learn coping skills to help better manage stress and improve relationships. You are coping with life transitions and adjustments, such as divorce or grief.”

This actually makes a lot of sense to me.

Each of you has suffered a profound loss….not only of Charlotte, but of the life you had and your dreams for the future.  It seems to me that our goal is for me to work with each of you as you face, individually and together, life as it is now and going forward.

I have, already, of course, been working with Megan and I would describe Megan as an emotionally healthy person who has suffered a profound loss.

Alex, I do not yet know you, but I’m starting from a point of wanting to get to know you and learning about you and also how you have ‘processed’ [not a great word] the loss of Charlotte and how you are managing your life right now.


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