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Grief counseling can help: you don't have to suffer the pain of grief alone

Dealing with loss and the grieving that follows is an extremely painful experience. You may be asking yourself if what you are feeling and experiencing is normal. When faced with a loss, emotions such as shock, denial, anger, fear, sadness and depression, to name just a few, are to be expected. These feelings go hand in hand with the loss of a loved one and are both powerful and sometimes overwhelming. To know if grief counseling may help you work through the painful reality that someone you love has died, perhaps it will help if you understand some fundamental facts about the painful process of grieving.

Due to the intensity of the emotions brought on by grief it is natural for you to be afraid that you will never be able to laugh or smile again, that your life will be forever damaged beyond repair. When you're in the midst of grieving, it is almost impossible to see beyond the pain and believe that grief resolution is possible. If you allow grief to have its way, it will cause distortions in your thinking and may even have you believing that you will forever be trapped in a pit of despair. This is not true – although the road to recovery may be long and difficult, there is light at the end of the tunnel!

Take time to absorb the impact of your loss

When a loved one dies, or you are faced with another type of devastating loss, it is helpful if you know what to expect. In the initial stage of grief, it is normal to be "cushioned" from the crushing reality of what has occurred through emotional shock. This sense of detachment is a physiological response that allows you to have the much needed time to absorb the full impact of your loss at your own pace. Our bodies and brains take good care of us, even when we can't. When faced with a loss so devastating as the death of a loved one, we may emotionally "shut down" for a while; this gives us time to absorb what has happened and prepare ourselves for the difficult times to come.

As the shock slowly subsides, you may find that you are having difficulty truly believing what has happened. Denial gives us additional time to sort through the thoughts and feelings that will come streaming to the surface later. Denial slowly gives way to powerful emotions such as anger, fear and intense sadness. Just as we have the capacity to love intensely, when the object of our love is lost, we have just as much capacity to hurt intensely. This makes us human, and these emotions are perfectly natural when we suffer a loss.

When is it essential to seek a grief counselor?

Almost everyone who grieves will suffer from depression at some point. If you become clinically depressed, where life has lost meaning, you are unable to accomplish the basic chores of daily living, such as caring for your personal hygiene, you are sleeping too much or not enough, or are having suicidal thoughts, you need to seek grief counseling immediately with a mental health professional who can assess your depression and take quick action to help you stay safe and heal from your loss.

It is crucial that you find a mental health professional and grief counselor that is trained in dealing with the unique needs of those who are grieving. Although clinical social workers and psychologists are unable to prescribe medications, such as anti-depressants, they can refer you to a qualified psychiatrist if they feel that medication is needed for your safety and recovery. Try to look at it this way: if you have gone beyond normal grief and bereavement and have become severely depressed enough to think about suicide, this is something you cannot handle on your own. You need the immediate assistance of a mental health professional who can assess the degree of your depression and then, when the time is right and you are feeling safe again, work with you in resolving your grief issues.

Sometimes, when we are grieving, we are unable to move beyond a particular emotion, such as fear or anger. If we cannot work through these emotions, it is impossible to reach the goal of recovery and resolution. Although our lives will never be what they were before a devastating loss, it does not mean that life has lost all meaning and pleasure. Recovery is possible and a grief counselor can help you to move through the painful process of normal, healthy grief, until you reach a new state of acceptance.

Where is God in all of this?

When someone we love has died, our religious or spiritual faith may be increased or our spiritual beliefs could be severely tested. It is natural for our faith to be shaken to its very core when we are faced with a devastating loss. Some may be more comfortable seeking counseling from those who share the same faith base as them. You can find a Christian grief counselor, and pastoral counselors of other faiths, that use both secular and spiritual principles to help you move through the grieving process to the point of acceptance of the Higher Power's creation of us as mortal beings. "I know you're angry at God; I think God understands your anger and can handle it," is the type of reassurance you might receive from a spiritual grief counselor.

How do I find the right grief counselor for me?
You can locate a qualified grief counselor by contacting a local hospital. Hospitals are a wonderful resource in aiding those in need of grief support, especially the hospital where your loved one died. In fact, this hospital's medical social worker will most likely ask if you would like to speak with a grief counselor. Many hospitals also sponsor support groups and provide other helpful resources for those who are grieving. You can also perform a computer search, to obtain information on certified grief counselors in your area. By entering "bereavement counselors in (insert your city and state)" into your computer's search engine, information on mental health professionals in your area will be provided.

Occasionally you may need to visit several different grief counselors until you find the one that you believe understands your unique personality and that you feel you can share your feelings with, completely and openly. Working with a grief counselor is just like working with a physician; you have the absolute right to keep searching until you find the practitioner that is right for you. Don't feel discouraged and don't give up; your grief counselor works for you. It is essential to have a strong counselor/patient relationship, if you are to reach the goal of moving through your grief in a healthy way.

Grief counseling is an important resource if you are having difficulty coping with loss. The pain of grief will affect everyone at some point in their lives. However, help is available to help you move through this painful process to the point of recovery, resolution and acceptance.

Grief can make us feel desperately alone, adrift on the sea of despair without hope of ever making it to shore. This error in our thinking comes from the intense feelings brought on by our pain. There is a life raft that you can grasp onto in the sea of despair, brought on by grief. Mental health professionals who specialize in the unique needs of those who are grieving are there to help you find a safe haven from the pain. You don't have to suffer the pain of grief alone.

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Further sources of information

You may find our other articles in the Coping with your own grief section helpful too.

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