Seeking Professional Grief Support: the nuts and bolts

“I think I could benefit from some professional help”.

Sounds easy enough, right? Over the past weeks, months or years you may have heard hints and suggestions from people all around you:

“Have you thought about seeing a counselor?”

“My sister has a great therapist”

“Have you gone to a support group?”

“Maybe you should ‘see someone’” 

If you are anything like me, sometimes it made you want to hit them in the face when they said it . . . and then sometimes you knew they were probably right.  And that only made you want to hit them in the face more.

But once the hemming and hawing was over, and you decided that seeking professional support was probably a good idea,  a new array of feelings may have popped up.  And if you are anything like me here, they were feelings of anxiety and confusion:

What kind of help? When will I have time to go?  Will google tell me where to go? What kind of therapist am I supposed to see? I hate strangers! What will happen when I go?  I can’t even get to the grocery store, how will I every pull myself together to go to therapy? 

Just breathe! We’re here to walk you through the basics this handy-dandy guide to getting help.


Deciding if you really need help.

Grief is a normal part of life.  We all go through it, and it certainly doesn’t mean we will always need to seek professional help.  But it you are thinking about seeing a therapist or going to a support group, my advice is that it is never a bad idea. Ever.  I have said it before, I will say it again: we could all benefit from a little bit of therapy!  But if you really want to see a list of some red flags before you commit, click here.


Consider what you are looking for in a therapist.

I know I know, if you knew that you wouldn’t be reading this.  So to get started, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you want something long-term or short-term?
  • Do you want someone just to listen, or someone to give you concrete guidance or advice?
  • Do you want to be seen alone, with you partner or family, or both?
  • Do you want/need insurance to cover your sessions?
  • Do you have a preference between seeing a man or a woman?
  • Do you have a preference in the age of your therapist?
  • Have you ever seen a therapist that you did or did not like in the past?  If so, make a list of what worked or what didn’t.

To help determine what educational background and therapeutic approach might be a good fit for your preferences in the first three questions above, consider the information in the next two steps.


What do all those letters after the counselor’s name mean?    Alphabet soup 2

Once you have a list of providers, you may be overwhelmed by the range of backgrounds and credentials they have: MD, PhD, PsyD, MA, LCSW, LCPC, MFT, LMSW, ATR, CT, CCMHC, CGP, SAP, CAC and on and on and on.  Don’t worry, it makes my head spin too and I have a bunch of those letters after my own name.

 All of these people have gone through some kind of advanced training in mental health and counseling.  What type of education, licenses, and certifications they have is less likely to impact whether they are a good fit as what kind of therapy they practice and their personality.  We will cover the types of therapy next, but for those of you who really want to know what the letters mean, click here.  This is not an exhaustive list, but it should be a pretty good place to start.


What type of therapy do you want you therapist to practice?

Therapy is therapy, right?!  Not exactly . . .  Many mental health professionals will have a certain therapeutic approach(s) that guides their work with patients.  Finding a therapist whose approach meets your needs will be important for productive treatment.  The problem is most of us have absolutely no idea what these approaches are, which will meet our needs, and how to find out which approach(s) a therapist practices.  Don’t worry, we’ve got your back.  Click here to learn a little bit about different types of therapy.


Consider insurance, money, EAPs, and budgets.

If you need insurance to cover your visits, start by calling your insurance company or going to their website and getting a list of approved mental health professionals in your area. 

If you do not have insurance, and cannot afford to private pay, begin calling hospices in your area.  Many offer grief and bereavement counseling free or on a sliding scale for a limited number of sessions.  If this is not an option, a local hospice may be aware of some free or sliding scale mental health providers in your area.

Depending on your employer, you may also have access to an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) that will offer you a fixed number of sessions with a therapist, and may also be able to direct you to something long term.  If you are not sure if your job offers an EAP, talk to your HR department.

If you plan to private pay, determine what you are able to pay per session.


Ask around and look online.

If you feel comfortable sharing with friends and family that you are planning to seek professional support, ask around for recommendations.  Though finding the right therapist can be a very personal choice, a friend who has a therapist they like may be able to give you some insight into their style and if they will be a good match for you.   If you don’t know anyone who has a recommendation, you may be able to learn a lot about a therapist from their website or professional online profile.


Get organized before you call.

When you start calling providers you will want to ask some questions and share some information about what you are looking for.  One office may have a number of different counselors, so being prepared with these items may help a scheduler put you with the counselor who is the best fit for your needs. 

You will want to share if there is a specific type of educational background or therapeutic approach you are looking for, a specific age or gender you feel more comfortable with, a type of insurance they must accept or an hourly rate you cannot exceed, any limitations in schedule that will impact what days/times you can be seen, or a specific distance from your home or job you require.

Ask basic questions if you aren’t sure: have they worked specifically with grief and loss? Are they licensed?  Did they go to an accredited school?


Set up an appointment.

This one is easy!  Schedule a time for an appointment.  Your first visit may be called an “intake”, “assessment” or “new patient” appointment.  In some cases it may be longer than future sessions will be, and it may cost more.  Some providers may actually have you go through that first appointment before matching you with a counselor.  This is because they may be looking at information during that first visit that will help them place you with the therapist who is the best fit.


Know what to expect.

At this point you are all set to go to see your counselor.  Many people are nervous about what to expect on their first visit.  Think of this as the “first date” of therapy visits.  Your counselor will likely ask you a lot of questions to get to know you, your situation, and what brings you to their office.  Depending on the therapist, they may have a very structured set of questions they will ask you, or it may be more informal and free flowing.  They will often ask you what your goals and expectations are.  This is an important time to be as honest as you can about what you are looking for.  If you have had a therapy experience that was not productive or successful in the past, this is the best time to discuss this with your new counselor and explain (as specifically as you can) what worked and what didn’t about that experience.  Most importantly, be honest. 

Final thoughts:  Keep in mind, therapy is no day at the spa.  Think of starting therapy as staring a workout routine:  it is hard work when you’re doing it and you sometimes you are really sore afterwards.  But you keep going back, because you know is good for you.  Then one day it starts  getting easier.  You get stronger.  You get healthier.   And it starts to feel good, even when you’re sore.  If you are looking for a therapist locator, the links in step three and four above will give informatin on some sites to help you locate a therapist in your area.

Stay up to date on our creative and practical techniques for coping with grief.  You wouldn’t want to forget about us!  Subscribe at the top of our sidebar (over there —>) to get our updates right to your email.




March 28, 2017

4 responses on "Seeking Professional Grief Support: the nuts and bolts"

  1. My older sister has been having some troubles lately, and my mom wants to take her to a counselor. The problem is is that she has no idea what to look for in a good counselor. I’ll make sure I show this to her right away so she can use these tips and see who she can find. Thanks a ton for sharing this with me.

  2. My mum died 15 years ago and I do not feel I have grieved I still cry at times play the song from her funaral, mum ashes were scattered by my sisters friend abroad I have no were to go, no grave or head stone.

  3. A GREAT resource for grief counseling (in my own experience) has been the hospice that we used for my Mom at the end of her life. They even allow people who were not patients/ family members of patients to use their grief counseling services at a sliding scale fee. I would advise anyone to check out their own local hospice company for what they might have to offer in the way of counseling or other support groups. I’ve really benefited from participating in the hospice support groups as well as visiting one of their grief therapists every week. There have been people with all types of loss (not just “hospice/ terminal illnesses”) in the support groups, so anyone from the community is welcome. It’s a resource most people wouldn’t think of if they haven’t used a hospice during the loss of a loved one, but a lot of hospice services also have pretty amazing grief therapy available to anyone who needs it.

  4. Wow, marvelous weblog format! How long have you ever been blogging for? you made running a blog look easy. The total look of your site is excellent, let alone the content material!

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