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8 common grief therapy techniques

Grieving is one of the most difficult experiences we can go through. It can cause us to feel a whole range of emotions, including shock, denial, anger, and sadness. We might also suffer from physical symptoms such as nausea, weight loss, and headaches. Leaning on your friends and family can help you cope with grief, but you may also want to seek professional support in the form of grief counseling.

“Traditionally, when you seek out therapy, it's for things that are soluble. Anxiety or depression have treatment goal outcomes, but when it comes to grief, there isn't necessarily a tangible solution, as we are learning to mourn and integrate the lost relationship into who we are becoming,” says Jaymie Byron, LMFT and grief therapist. 

“The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not “get over” the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but, you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same, nor would you want to.” - Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

A grief counselor or therapist can help you navigate and process these complex emotions. Resolving grief is an active process, and grief therapy techniques allow you to express and work through your emotions in a healthy way. A grief therapist can walk with you on this journey, providing insight and companionship.

The guidance below was reviewed by Jaymie Byron, LMFT, and Community & Education Director at Kara Grief. As a grief therapist, Jaymie understands the complexities of grief and the grief therapy strategies that can help you cope. Below we dive into a few of these techniques. 

1. Companioning

Companioning is when a grief therapist acts as a companion who hears and witnesses your feelings. Companioning isn’t about analyzing or trying to fix things. The therapist will simply be present with you and provide a safe space for you to express your emotions. Having this time and space to talk about your feelings around your loss is an important part of the grieving process.

2. Distinguishing grief from trauma

You may also be experiencing trauma surrounding your loss. For example, you could be having traumatic flashbacks to the moment you found out your loved one died or from visiting them when they were very ill. Trauma can often mask or compound the grief process — your counselor can help you disentangle what you’re experiencing so you can resolve things and heal.

3. Separating different emotions

One way of engaging with trauma stemming from the death of a significant relationship is to differentiate the emotions that arise from this incident. This differentiation — or emotional granularity — can help clarify your experience and help you identify coping skills that would be most helpful for you in the moment. For example, many people experience feelings of guilt when someone’s passed away, perhaps about how they feel or because of unresolved issues. Grief counseling can help you recognize the distinct emotions you’re feeling so you can work through them.

4. Bibliotherapy

Reading about shared experiences or coping methods can be helpful when dealing with grief. This technique is called bibliotherapy and it can be especially helpful for those in rural communities with limited access to counseling or therapy. Reading stories of loss, and how the bereaved worked through these emotions, can support you as you embark on your own healing journey. 

5. Restoring routine

The period after the death of a significant relationship can feel disorientating; however, creating new habits and routines can restore a sense of normalcy. Starting hobbies and projects can help us move forward with our lives while we continue to process our grief. A grief counselor can help you find things that work for you.

6. Expressing emotions through art

While talk or narrative therapies can be beneficial, utilizing a creative outlet can address or allow you to explore your grief at a deeper level. Drawing, painting, and writing are all common grief therapy techniques for adults and children. You might do this in your sessions, or your grief counselor might suggest activities for you to explore in your own time.

7. Creating rituals

Another common grief therapy technique is the creation of rituals. They help you channel your grief into a particular activity so that you have a dedicated time each day to feel your emotions and remember who you’ve lost. Having this devoted time to grieve can make it easier for you to get on with your day-to-day life. Common grief rituals include lighting a candle for someone, visiting their grave, taking a daily walk, or setting a time each day to sit in a certain chair and reflect. 

8. Riding the waves

It’s often said that grief comes in waves. Sometimes we might be feeling a bit better when suddenly we’re hit with another big wave of grief. A grief counselor can help you accept changing emotions and find strategies to cope with various stages of grief. One week you might need to express your feelings through companionship and creativity while another time you might be ready to restore some routine into your life.

What grief therapy strategies can teach us

Grief therapy is only as effective as the other coping mechanisms you have in place — like support from your community.  

“Peer support and therapeutic support are complementary — it's not either-or. At times, it might be helpful to have someone to talk to that empathizes or has been through the same experience. And other times you might need coping skills from a grief therapist. Both are necessary for healing,” says Jaymie.  

Above all, be kind to yourself and ask for help if you need it.