Grief Counseling - What Happens in the First Session?

Grief Counseling

By: Peggy Burns, MA, LPC

In my first blog, I wrote about Grief Counseling and when the right time is to make an appointment to see a counselor. Now I would like to write about what happens when you do make that appointment.

The very first thing to do is congratulate yourself. It’s a big step, and it took courage to get here. Grief and loss are universal, but what makes it unique is the person going through the loss of a loved one, the break up of a marriage, or another life changing event.

Your grief is yours alone. If this is your first time seeing a counselor, you may not know what to expect or what is expected of you. Start from the point at which you are right now. Feel the grief that you are holding right now and just talk, let it spill out like a fountain. As a therapist, I want to offer a calm, open, and nurturing place for you to be yourself and talk about whatever brings you in that day.

There are a few things that will happen during your session. You may cry the entire time you are there, or you may not cry at all. It’s the beginning of a new day, a small step that will lead to bigger steps. It may sound cliché, but it’s true.

At first it will feel like everything is all mixed up and out of order, and the words and stories sometimes don’t make a lot of won’t and that’s ok. There is no right or wrong way to say things in therapy. Just let the pain come out and feel all the power it will give you by releasing your thoughts and feelings.

There is no short cut for grief. I encourage you to be as open as possible in your sessions and go with the pain it brings. I know this sounds a little scary......what does it mean to go with the pain? For me it means when the saddest part of you feels like there’s a hole in your heart and the pain is deep within; just let it come out.  Sit with the pain, not by rushing through the emotions, but by letting yourself feel sad, angry, or whatever it is at that moment.  You can talk about how sad it makes you feel, how it hurts to think of your loved one, or you can cry and let the tears fall. If you don’t, it will keep coming back and creeping into your life unexpectedly; it will not just go away.

In the first couple of sessions, the therapist will most likely mention the stages of grief. It is probably something you are familiar with. Some of the most common ones are the Kubler-Ross' stages, also known as "The Five Stages of Grief," or Worden’s Task-Based Model. Whatever works for you is the best one.   It also helps normalize what you are going through by reading about the stages and knowing that everyone will go through these in their own time.

On a personal note, I did not feel anger in the order it was listed when my sister died, and it showed up much later when my daughter died. I was so mad at my sister for not being here to help me grieve for my daughter, and I was surprised when I felt this emotion. I had to go back and re-read the steps. It helped me see that the stages don’t always have to be in order, as emotions come at their own will.  

I want to congratulate you on reaching out to a grief counselor and letting the healing begin. I hope you will take your time and listen to your heart. You will begin to feel relief with each session.