Grief Counseling: What to Expect


Losing a loved one can be hard. It can be even more difficult when the grief that you experience becomes overwhelming or causes you to develop a mental illness. These are the times when it is most important to seek help so that you can better manage and process your grief. But before you start googling “therapist near me”, here are some things that you can expect out of grief counseling.

1. You Will Get Emotional


Grief counseling is by no means clean or easy. You are not going to walk into the office and walk out an hour later, clear of any negative emotions and free of the grief that used to control you. There are going to be tears, anger, and uncomfortable discussions. You are going to have to face your grief head on and you will have to talk about things that you would want to avoid on your own. Counseling is not about getting around your grief. It is about getting through your grief. Expect to face some unwanted emotions and thoughts when you get into therapy. Debbie Augenthaler, LMHC, NCC says, “No one is born knowing how to cope with the wave of grief that follows the death of someone we love. As a psychotherapist who’s worked with many grievers, I know when faced with overwhelming grief, many people feel like they are alone in what they’re experiencing and can feel like they’re going crazy.”

2. You Will Be Forced to Do Exercises

Small tasks and milestones are important when you are going through grief counseling. For example, let’s imagine that you have lost a child recently. You may have a task in the beginning where you will be required to enter your child’s room and to go through their things to sort out what you may want to keep and what things you can trash or give away. Later on in the process, your therapist may ask you to go through with donating and trashing some of your child’s things. It can be brutal to do but it is crucial to helping you through the grief process and allowing you to move on. These are the types of things that you may experience in therapy. As Janeen Herskovitz, MA, LMHC  explains, “Diagnosis or not, the grief is very real. Often, an understanding of the grief stages, and the knowledge that grief is cyclical, helps parents adjust.”

3. Change Is Not Immediate


Much like how the memory of your loved one will not go away, grief is not going anywhere either. Over time, how you cope with the loss of your loved one will improve. For now, however, you will get the coping mechanisms from therapy that you will need for the future. Don’t walk into the therapist’s office and expect them to make you feel better again. This is not how therapy works and this mindset will immediately set you up for failure. Instead, walk into the therapist’s office with an open heart and an open mind and accept everything that comes your way.

4. You May Not Get What You Wanted

Therapy doesn’t always work the way you want it to. This is a harsh statement, but it is the truth. You may end up working with a therapist who doesn’t work for you and therefore can’t help you properly. You may not be ready for therapy or you may even be fighting it unconsciously and preventing yourself from healing and moving forward. There are an abundance of reasons that therapy may not work for you and if it doesn’t, keep looking for help and don’t lose hope.

5. Grief Requires Constant Work

Long after you have finished working with your therapist, you will still be feeling the effects of your grief. The symptoms may not be as serious as they were when you initially experienced the loss but they will still be there. Know this and know that you will have to be working on your grief for the remainder of your life. What you learn in therapy is designed to help you achieve this. “You can open up and be honest about how they feel, and let go of the baggage from your horrible experience.” A reminder from Lisa S. Larsen, PsyD.


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