Grief Counseling – Take your time…...but how long is too long?

By: Peggy Burns, MA, LPC

Many, if not all of us, have experienced grief in our lifetime. The baby boomers most likely have experienced the loss of one or both of their parents by this time and perhaps even a sibling. I am one of those baby boomers who have lost both parents and two siblings.

The loss of a loved one is like no other experience, it’s devastating and heartbreaking. You may think you will never feel the same, and that's true, but you won’t always feel as bad as you do when it happened. 

Is There a Time Frame for Grieving?

Although there are well-recognized “stages of grief,” you may not go through them in order and you many even go backwards and feel anger again, for instance, or resignation, only to start all over again.   

Grieving is personal and the time frame varies from a year to two, perhaps longer. I say two years only because if you are still grieving like you did when you first experienced the loss, then it may be time to seek grief counseling. 

How Might Grief Counseling Help?

Grief counseling isn’t that different from other counseling. It is a forum to express your feelings, tell the counselor that you are still sad, still miss your loved one, and be able to talk about him or her. It’s a place where you can think about how to move forward with more clarity, strength, and understanding of how you are being affected by this loss in your life and what that means for your future.  

A person-centered approach to grief counseling offers a supportive and empathic relationship where you can feel safe, and offers unconditional positive acceptance as you struggle with your feelings of grief. Often times the person you are mourning is the person you have counted on as emotional support, and counseling can help supply a little of that missing support.

I find that one of the biggest questions is “What could I have done to prevent it from happening?” In most circumstances, there was nothing that you could have done to stop it from happening. Taking the personalization out of the picture is a necessary step and talking through these emotions will help with that process.

Grieving is also Active, Not Just Talking

The approach I like to use is based on Worden’s task-based model, which sees mourning as an active process that involves four tasks:

  • Accepting the reality of the loss;

  • Experiencing the reality of the loss;

  • Adjusting to the world without the deceased; And

  • Finding an enduring connection with the deceased in the midst of embarking on a new life.

These four tasks time – your own time. Grief is a journey that people are reluctant to take because in order to change grief, you must experience the sadness and pain of loss. It is not a road one likes to travel down alone.

It seems like an impossible task at the beginning, but with time, it will start to happen. If it doesn’t or you feel stuck in one of the tasks for too long, then maybe it is time to seek a counselor.