Updated on 3/4/2022
Grief is a common experience when we suffer a loss. Many people tend to think of grieving in terms of the death of a loved one. But the truth is, there are many different types of grief. We can experience grief after many types of loss in life. For example, divorce, a friendship ending, or job loss can all result in us having feelings of grief. Grieving can cause sadness, regret, anger, and other emotions that might cause us to struggle.
But grief isn’t just the feelings we experience. Rather, it’s a process we must go through in order to fully heal. Grief counseling can offer a way to handle painful experiences in a healthy manner. Grief therapy techniques offer guidance and provide helpful tools for processing loss.
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Types of Grief Therapy & Techniques
Just as people experience grieving in different manners, there are also multiple ways to process our grief. Grief therapy techniques offer varying approaches to dealing with loss. The type of therapy or technique that works best for anyone person greatly depends on a number of factors — like whether or not they’re dealing with prolonged grief (where you’re in a state of constant, chronic grief that you can’t get out of).
In some cases, a combination of grief therapy tools and techniques might result in a more effective outcome. Some of the grief therapy interventions that are available include:
1. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
Cognitive behavioral therapy is a form of therapy that involves learning to identify negative thought patterns so you can work to change them. This treatment is based on the fundamental premise that by learning to cope with your negative thoughts and behaviors, you can relieve symptoms and live a healthier, more productive life day to day. If you are looking for a more action oriented, you can search for therapists specifically trained in CBT. CBT has been proven in study after study to be one form of therapy that results in substantial improvement in quality of life. It’s actually even as, if not more, effective than several other types of therapy.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for grief works by helping you become aware of your negative thought patterns. These patterns can lead to behaviors that make it difficult to process grief. During CBT sessions, a therapist might ask you to discuss what you’re thinking about or feeling in terms of your grief. Identifying these negative thought patterns can help you understand how they’re affecting your behavior. CBT grief therapy tools that are used to promote healing often include:
- Cognitive Reframing or Restructuring: Cognitive reframing or restructuring helps you become aware of negative thought patterns or distortions. You work through sessions to first identify negative thought patterns, so you can begin to take healthy steps to change them.
- Targeting Behaviors: Targeting behaviors involves addressing unhelpful or harmful behaviors or habits and replacing them with helpful ones.
- Developing a New Narrative: This technique helps you come up with a new narrative about your loss. It eases negative thoughts and feelings, rather than dwelling on them.
2. Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT)
Acceptance and commitment therapy helps you learn to accept negative emotions and situations and then develop healthy patterns. It hones in on your ability to enhance psychological flexibility, so you can accept your feelings instead of trying to run away from them, feeling guilty about them, or avoiding them altogether. Psychological flexibility is the ability to be very present and in the moment in your life.
Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) uses mindfulness to help you process grief and accept loss. This type of therapy can be used for prolonged or complicated grief that lasts for a year or more after a loss occurs. ACT helps you reprocess a loss emotionally. It also helps you begin to process any emotions you might have been avoiding dealing with. ACT uses several grief therapy techniques to achieve acceptance and healing. These can include:
- Accepting negative feelings and emotions
- Distancing from negative feelings and emotions in order to understand them better
- Focusing on the present
- Observing yourself experiencing different situations and circumstances
- Identifying your values
- Overcoming difficulties through the use of the previous techniques
3. Traumatic grief therapy
Traumatic grief therapy allows you to process a sudden trauma-related grief – for example, losing a loved one unexpectedly. This form of therapy looks at trauma response and the grief that’s associated with a traumatic (usually unexpected) death.
4. Complicated grief therapy (CGT)
CGT involves learning to address the symptoms of complicated grief. This form of grief may result in feelings of hopelessness and prolonged, intense sadness. Those experiencing complicated grief may fixate on the person they lost, or on the circumstances surrounding the death. CGT often includes acceptance and commitment therapy.
5. Group Therapy
Group therapy for grief is when small groups of individuals gather to share thoughts and feelings with others who are also grieving. Often, groups are made up of people who’re recovering from similar experiences. Support groups can offer a brave and safe space for you to share and heal in a confidential, supportive, loving environment.
6. Art therapy
Art therapy uses creativity to promote healing and help you process your grief. It can support, improve, and restore functioning and a sense of well-being. The idea behind art therapy is the belief that artistic and creative self-expression can have a healing effect on us. Painting, drawing, coloring, making collages, and even sculpting are all common activities during art therapy sessions.
7. Play therapy
Play therapy involves the use of imaginative or other types of play to help children process grief. It offers children a safe place to express their feelings while giving them tools that can help them self-regulate their emotions. Play therapy is optimal for children as they’re often unable to articulate feelings, emotions, and problems they’re experiencing, especially after a significant loss. Giving them an outlet to be able to express themselves can be hugely beneficial in their grief recovery.
“When I’m working with clients who are feeling deep grief, we focus on processing the experience and feeling all of our feelings, so we can integrate what has happened; integration is key to healing.”
Grief Therapy Resources
If you’re looking for more information on grief therapy techniques, you can talk to your doctor or therapist to find out more. Online resources for how to manage grief are also available. By now you should have a good understanding of how grief therapy interventions work. You should also know what types of tools are available to assist you in working through your pain and loss, so you can go back to living a life free from debilitating grief.
1. What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?. https://www.apa.org. https://www.apa.org/ptsd-guideline/patients-and-families/cognitive-behavioral. Published 2017. Accessed August 20, 2021.
2. CBT’s Cognitive Restructuring (CR) For Tackling Cognitive Distortions. PositivePsychology.com. https://positivepsychology.com/cbt-cognitive-restructuring-cognitive-distortions/. Published 2021. Accessed August 20, 2021.
3. Help G, Professionals F, Listed G et al. Grief Counseling: The Grief Process, Models of Grief, and Grief Therapy. Goodtherapy.org. https://www.goodtherapy.org/learn-about-therapy/issues/grief. Published 2019. Accessed August 20, 2021.
4. 3 Grief Counseling Therapy Techniques & Interventions. PositivePsychology.com. https://positivepsychology.com/grief-counseling/. Published 2020. Accessed August 20, 2021.
5. Wetherell J. Complicated grief therapy as a new treatment approach. NCBI. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3384444/. Published 2012. Accessed August 20, 2021.
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