Everyone will eventually encounter grief in their lives. Grief is typically a reaction to bereavement or a loss of some kind, not always the death of a person. Sometimes it is loss of an object, identity, good health, partner or dream.
We all feel grief differently and deal with it differently. Sometimes grief can lead to depression or anxiety or behaviours like binge drinking or drug taking. And sometimes grief becomes what we call “complicated grief” where the process of managing the loss becomes unhealthy or a person becomes “stuck” in their grief for years at the cost of other things in their life, including children, career and social interactions.
However, it is important to note that when we lose something really significant in our life, we should not be expected to “get over it” and move on.
Grief should always be honoured as a process that allows the person who has lost to find some acceptance for their loss and a way to manage the loss.
This article will explain what grief counselling is, how to tell if you need it, and how you might benefit from receiving some grief counselling.
What is grief counselling?
Grief is not restricted to feelings of intense sadness and anger. Grief can also involve strong feelings of yearning, regret, or guilt. These emotions are powerful factors that can have far-reaching effects on our lives and how we continue to live.
Grief counsellors understand that grief is a very personal and sometimes complicated process. That’s why grief counselling provides a safe space for the person who is grieving to work through their thoughts and feelings following a loss. What is unique about grief counselling as opposed to say someone talking to a friend – is that grief counsellors have expertise in how to pace conversations so they are not overwhelming for the client. Grief counselling also provides a space where people can express thoughts and feelings which may be confronting or confusing to others, or appear irrational.
A good grief counsellor will also challenge negative or unhelpful behaviours that sometimes accompany grief symptoms. And they’ll provide a space where the person or people can be understood and not judged.
Some people feel suicidal when they lose a significant person – we see this when people lose their baby or child. Although this is a typical first and understandable reaction (if you are a parent you might be able to imagine this feeling), if a person attempts to take their life or continues to feel suicidal many years down the track there is a problem and professional help should be sought. This is where active work by the grief counsellor is required. Safely measures will be put into place immediately by the grief counsellor and work will begin to help the person stay safe. An important aspect of grief counselling is to give the person some strategies to deal with the overwhelming sense of sadness or anger that often accompanies grief.
At the Sydney Couple and Family Specialists, we understand that grief impacts relationships in a profound way. The risk of separation between couples is extremely high following the loss of a child, for instance. That’s why it is crucial for all parties affected by grief to get support from a grief counsellor who also has specialist training in working with relationships.
We can help if you have a child who has experienced grief and loss – perhaps through the death of a parent, carer or sibling. This is called family grief counselling. We have helped parents who have lost their child/teen or adult child. We see parents together to help to work on their relationship after loss. We see adults separately to provide privacy as they work through feelings and thoughts they don’t want anyone else to know about. We see children who have lost a sibling and are not only dealing with their own grief but that of their grieving parents.
Another type of grief counselling is trauma based. Sometimes people lose loved ones in a traumatic way – for example, car accidents, drownings and so on. Whole families are affected by grief which is why at the Sydney Couple and Family Specialists we like to assess the impact of the loss on the whole family and look at how relationships have been affected. We also like to assess and help with the change in family dynamics as a result of the loss.
Sometimes a person might only need one or two sessions to make sense of their grief and at other times because of the nature of the loss, a person will require grief counselling for 12 months or more.
What can grief counselling help you with?
- Loss of a child, teen or adult child
- Loss of a parent or carer or significant other like a best friend
- Loss of a sibling
- Miscarriage or stillbirth loss
- IVF loss or loss through unable to conceive
- Loss of a relationship or discovering news of a betrayal
- Loss of a job, reputation
- Financial loss
- Loss of a parent due to relocation
- Loss of a country or place you used to live (cultural loss)
- Loss of body function due to accident or ill health.
How do you know if you need grief counselling?
Sometimes it can be difficult to know if your grief is in a ‘normal’ range, or if it’s in a problem range. Grief is by nature depressing and all-consuming. And if the loss is associated with trauma then it is completely in the normal range to experience the following:-
- Feelings of emptiness and hopelessness
- Intense sadness and emotional pain that feels overwhelming and out of control
- Preoccupation with the deceased or with the circumstances of the death
- Lack of desire to pursue personal interests or plans
- Avoidance of reminders of the deceased
- Detachment and isolation from surviving friends and family
- Difficulty engaging in happy memories of the lost person
However, if you’re struggling with any of the following symptoms, you feel intensely lonely, and/or you notice that others don’t know how to respond to your grief, you might benefit from some grief counselling with Sydney Couple and Family Specialists:
- Difficulty engaging with your partner
- Unable to sustain work or friendships
- Not feeling connected to your children and overwhelmed by the idea of parenting
- Excessive drinking or drug taking to block out the grief
- Suicidal thoughts
- Binge eating or not eating due to grief
- Depression and/or anxiety that was not there before the loss
- Self-harm behaviours like cutting, burning to relieve pain
- Resentment towards the loss or the way the loss occurred
- Anger and resentment at a loved one, or a wish someone else had died instead
- You notice that relationships in your family are being profoundly affected and perhaps there are risks of further losses in other ways – e.g. estrangements and so on.
- You have been approached by family or friends to seek help or they have indicated they are worried about you.
How can grief counselling help you and your significant relationships?
It is well documented that the loss of a child places great pressure on a couple and their marriage. Many couples who suffer this kind of loss end up separating due to their different grief processes. And we also know that bereaved siblings can become “lost” in their teenage years – grief complicates their development. The risks to relationships after grief is high. If a family suffers a significant bereavement, grief therapy with a trained Family Therapist can help the parents stay connected and parent their children. Grief family counselling can also be a safe place for children and teens to express their loss and work through it.
Bereavement and depression are sometimes linked. In fact, complicated grief can lead to depression. Depression causes a person to feel disconnected from others. In these circumstances people begin to withdraw from others which leads to a sense of loneliness and puts at risk loss of significant relationships. Once again, the support of a grief counsellor can help a person with their loss and continue to stay connected with their loved ones and friends.
When is the best time to access grief counselling?
Right at the beginning of a loss (particularly if there is associated trauma) grief counselling should be sought. The focus of grief counselling at this stage is to help people to get through their day-to-day lives on a very basic level and to be a sounding board for decisions that need to be made. Accessing grief counselling at the beginning of the loss can also help to save lives and future losses – which is a risk for people who are losing significant loved ones like children. Grief counselling will enable the individual, parents, couple or family feel totally supported through a haze of shock. Grief counselling at this stage can help identify “red flags” that people need to be aware of either for themselves or others in the family.
Other times, grief counselling is best accessed when the initial shock is over – funerals or immediate tasks following the loss have been attended to. First tasks following a loss often keeps grief to some extent at bay and there are usually supportive loved ones on hand to help out as well. However, once tasks are over we find that loved ones can distance themselves again as they return to their daily lives. Or they just don’t know what to say or how to help the grieving person. For this reason, this is when we suggest grieving couples and families seek professional help. Grief counselling can help people learn ways to respond to others around them or express their needs. Grief counselling at this stage is an opportunity to make a connection with a non-judgemental grief counsellor who is able to hear things without being confronted. Grief counselling also provides a sounding board at often a confusing and lonely time.
Grief counselling should also be accessed if you notice there is someone in your family that is not doing well mentally. For example, we see a lot of teens and youths at the Sydney Couple and Family Specialists who have lost a parent and begin to show other signs of distress like eating problems, depression, anxiety or becoming parentified. Many parents who are grieving themselves are slow to realise that their children are at risk of other problems if professional help is not sought. Sometimes other problems as a result of grief show up many years later after the loss. We often see the onset of puberty as a time when underlying grief becomes a problem for the developing teen.
And finally, some people return to grief counselling when they wonder if they are ready to make decisions in their lives which they feel conflicted or confused about e.g. dating again or marrying a new partner. It is common for the waves of grief and the thoughts and feelings that go with this to surge at different stages of a person life – events like weddings, funerals, graduations and new babies trigger grief responses to significant losses.
Why use Sydney Couple and Family Specialists?
If you’re in the Sydney area – particularly the Eastern Suburbs, CBD Sydney, Lower North Shore or Inner West – and you believe you could benefit from grief counselling, please contact the Sydney Couple and Family Specialists.
Our experienced family counsellors are skilled at holding a space for grief work. We are all mature and we have also experienced grief ourselves. We understand that grief is normal, we will not expect you to “just get over it” “or move on”. We will respectfully support you as a family, couple or individual to work through all the feelings and thoughts that come up as a result of grief. We are respectful of religious and cultural views and personal values.
We are practical in our approach and will also help you make decisions at a time where grief can leave you overwhelmed. We are all warm, compassionate people – you will feel our care quite strongly but we will not fall apart listening to your story.
If you’re looking for some grief counselling in Sydney, or you know someone who you believe would really benefit from some grief counselling, call us today on 02 8968 9397 or complete our contact form.
Because grief is so personal, we understand it is important to see the right grief counsellor and therefore offer 15-minute consultation calls prior to you booking in with us.