What is grief counseling? First, we want to clarify what we mean by 'grief counseling'. When we use the terms 'grief counseling', we're using it to mean any type of one-on-one, couples, or family therapy, provided by a licensed counselor, to someone(s) who experienced a significant loss.
Ideally, the counselor will have experience and expertise related to grief and bereavement, though their backgrounds will vary. The impetus for seeking therapy is challenges related to coping with loss and adjusting to life in its wake. Though, a person may find they address a wide range of issues throughout their counseling journey, whether they set out to do so or not.
Do I need grief counseling?
The question many people start with - and thus the most common question we hear - is something along the lines of "Do I need grief counseling?" or "How do I know I should go to grief counseling?"
I'm afraid our answer isn't the most satisfying for people who want black-and-white guidelines, but I also think it's the simplest. What we say is - if you are even slightly open to counseling - it never hurts to give it a try.
People often think there's a threshold of severity they should surpass before seeking counseling. Just as a person might wait until a fever spikes to a specific temperature before calling the doctor, they believe their grief has to hit a certain intensity before calling a counselor. However, therapeutic experiences can be helpful to anyone, even people who are feeling pretty 'okay' in their life.
For example, counseling can help a person explore their experiences in a supportive, confidential, and non-judgmental environment. Also, counselors can provide psychoeducation and help clients identify coping tools and resources for dealing with a wide range of stressors.
We know this may seem overly simplistic, logistically speaking. There are barriers related to access and cost that we'll address a little in the next few FAQs. But generally speaking, in terms of whether you should try it or not, if doing so doesn't place undue strain on your wallet or your time - then we say go for it. For our friends who want a little more concrete advice on this topic, try these articles:
- What is "Normal" in Grief?
- When Grief Goes from Just Plain Miserable to Problematic
- "Normal" vs Not-so-"Normal" Grief
What should I look for?
Get out a piece of paper and do a little brainstorming about what you'd like out of this experience. Ask yourself:
- Do I want to be seen on my own or with other people?
- Do I need a certain time of day or days of the week?
- Do I want to, or need to, consider teletherapy?
- Do I need to see someone in a certain area?
- Do I have preferences about the therapist's demographics?
- Do I want to see someone who also has expertise in things like anxiety, trauma, etc?
- Do I want a hands-on, structured type of therapy or one that is flexible and open-ended?
- Do I know anyone who can offer me a recommendation?
Though the ideal scenario may not be possible, it helps to think about what you need and want from this experience. Knowing this can help you refine your search and determine what questions you ask. All that said, we encourage you to remain as flexible as possible. Ultimately, the therapists and therapies you find helpful might surprise you.
What questions should I ask?
Quite often, people schedule with a therapist without asking any questions. It's okay if you prefer not to ask questions, BUT you are more likely to find the right fit the first time around if you ask a bit about their background and approach.
I think people are hesitant to ask potential therapists questions for a handful of reasons. First, therapy is a little scary for some people. While some respond to fear and anxiety by asking many questions, others will do the opposite.
Second, many people are under the misconception that therapy is therapy and underestimate the vast differences in therapeutic approaches in personal style.
Finally, I think many people just don't know what to ask! You may have already written down a few questions in your brainstorm, so start with those. Beyond that, you may want to ask about:
- Their credentials: The letters behind their name may indicate their educational background as well as the type of license they hold. We do always recommend that you see a licensed counselor.
- Their expertise: Do they have training in particular areas that are important to you? Specifically, ask about their background working with people who are grieving.
- Their therapeutic approach: Therapeutic approaches vary widely. It may be helpful to know what a therapist's particular therapeutic approach is like. Check out this list of types of therapy for more information.
How am I going to afford counseling?
The cost of out-of-pocket therapy presents a significant barrier to many people. Even if you can afford a session or two, the idea of regularly paying session fees may seem impossible.
Most people will need to need to research their options for subsidizing the cost of therapy. Here are a few avenues to try:
Insurance: Insurance is a go-to for many people. If you have health insurance, look into your plan's mental health benefits and the process for accessing counseling.
Employee Assistance Programs (EAP): If you have benefits through your workplace, you may have access to an EAP. If so, there's a good chance this benefit provides you with some free counseling sessions. Again, we encourage you to research your particular benefits, as they vary from program to program.
Sliding-Scales: If you have to pay out-of-pocket but can't afford the therapist's rate, ask them if they have the option to pay on a sliding scale. Using a sliding scale, some therapists will offer counseling at a lower cost based on what the client can afford to pay.
Local hospices and grief centers: Check to see if there are hospices and grief centers in your local community. These types of organizations often have cost-effective grief counseling options.
I've made an appointment - now what?
Hopefully, your future therapist has provided you with enough information to take the first step. If you still have questions and anxieties, that's okay. The first session should be about getting to know each other - them getting to know you - and you learning more about their approach and style.
Try to be open to the process and know that you will feel uncomfortable at times. That's kind of the point!
After a few sessions, hopefully, you'll feel like you're getting the hang of it. If not, it's okay to share your uncertainty with your therapist. You may find that it's something you can work through.
You may also ultimately decide that this therapist or their approach is not the right fit for you. Therapy can be a bit like dating at times; you may have to meet with a few people before finding the right fit. Though it's undoubtedly true that therapy, in general, will not feel right to everyone, we encourage you not to give up after only one experience.
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We wrote a book!
After writing online articles for What’s Your Grief
for over a decade, we finally wrote a tangible,
What’s Your Grief? Lists to Help you Through Any Loss is for people experiencing any type of loss. This book discusses some of the most common grief experiences and breaks down psychological concepts to help you understand your thoughts and emotions. It also shares useful coping tools, and helps the reader reflect on their unique relationship with grief and loss.
You can find What’s Your Grief? Lists to Help you Through Any Loss wherever you buy books: