What Is Bereavement Therapy? (2023)

What Is Bereavement Therapy?

Bereavement therapy, also known as grief counseling,refers to therapy offered to those who have suffered the loss of a loved one and are going through the grieving process.

The process of grieving can involve a host of different emotions including sadness, anger, guilt, and regret, and it can be helpful to have a professional there with you through the stages of this process.

A bereavement therapist can help with things like adapting to life without your loved one, working through guilt about things you wish had gone differently, and sharing feelings that you otherwise might not have anyone with whom to share.

The process of grief can be a confusing time; the goal of bereavement therapy is to help you cope and make sense of it all.

This article discusses how bereavement therapy works and the benefits of this type of treatment. It also covers different types of bereavement counseling you might encounter and how to find a bereavement therapist.


If you are considering bereavement counseling, you might be wondering what to expect. Below are some of the different aspects of bereavement counseling that you may work through with your therapist, to help you better understand the process.

Getting in Touch With Your Feelings

A bereavement therapist can help you to get in touch with your emotions and express them in a safe space. Having a therapist can be particularly helpful if you don’t have anyone to talk with or don’t feel comfortable expressing those feelings to friends or family.

A therapist can listen without offering advice and help you to feel as though your feelings are valid.

Accepting the Loss

If you are feeling disconnected or numb, bereavement therapy can help you to work towards accepting the reality of the loss of your loved one. This process can be particularly important if you tend to shut off your emotions or deal with the situation by not thinking about it at all.

Working Through Trauma

If you witnessed your loved one’s death or there was some other traumatic aspect of the loss, bereavement counseling can help you to process the trauma.

(Video) What does a bereavement counsellor do?

During therapy, you would describe what you witnessed, discuss how it made you feel, and learn how to move forward with the support of your therapist. It can be helpful to process trauma in the presence of a therapist who can offer empathy and support.

Working Through Guilt

Guilt is a common feeling after the death of a loved one. This guilt may be marked by self-blame and regret, which can make coping with the loss more complicated.

If you have feelings of guilt about things that you should have done or how things could have gone differently, then a bereavement therapist can help you to work through these feelings.

A therapist could help you to see that living your best life is more important than holding onto guilt about things that you can’t change.

Dealing With Daily Life

If your daily life is in upheaval because you lost someone who was there with you every day, then a bereavement therapist can help you to reorganize your life and find new ways to function to address these issues.

For example, if your lost your spouse and it was your spouse who managed the budget or did all of the cooking or cleaning, then you will need to find a new way to get those things done. A therapist can help you to make these plans.

Building a Support System

A bereavement therapist can help you to build a support system by connecting you to community resources or support groups that will offer you support.

Building a support system is particularly important if you don't know where to turn for help or aren’t sure what support services are available to you.

Making Funeral Arrangements

If your loss is fairly recent, your bereavement therapist might also be able to help you think through the process of making funeral arrangements. Having support during this process can help make sure that your loved one is remembered in a way that feels right to you at a time when you might not be able to think clearly or make decisions easily.

If a loss is imminent, you might also have the opportunity to begin the therapy process prior to the actual death.

(Video) How To Define Bereavement Therapy

Checking for Depression

Grief can play a role in triggering the onset of depression. A bereavement therapist will also ask you questions to determine whether you might be living with potentially treatable symptoms of a depressive disorder.

Depression may also sometimes be a symptom of complicated grief, a condition that occurs in about 10% of all bereaved people.

Journaling and Writing Exercises

Your bereavement therapist can give you tools that will last you long after you finish therapy, such as journaling about your emotions and daily struggles, writing about memories, and working through problems by writing.

Your therapist may also guide you through writing exercises such as writing a letter to your deceased loved one to tell them how you feel about losing them or what your life is like now that they are gone.

In one study looking at the effect of a writing treatment for traumatic bereavement, the results suggested that writing was an effective intervention for bereaved children and teens.

Book Recommendations

A bereavement therapist can also recommend books to read about the grieving process so that you can learn about what to expect, get validation, and confirm that your feelings are normal.

For example, you might receive a recommendation to read a book about moving past guilt if this is the specific issue that you are dealing with.

Art Therapy

Some bereavement therapists also practice art therapy. Art therapy for grief might include creating a memory book, doing a craft project, or making other art to remember your loved one.

A 2018 study found that the use of visual art treatment strategies was associated with positive changes in bereaved adults. Art therapy was linked to helping people feel a stronger bond to their deceased loved one and find meaning in the experience.

Art therapy is also a way to practice soothing yourself, which can be helpful if you are also experiencing anxiety after the loss of your loved one.

(Video) 5 Minute Therapy Tips - Episode 02: Grief

Unresolved Issues

Do you feel as though you have unresolved issues related to your loved one’s death? For example, perhaps you were in the middle of an argument at the point of their death.

Bereavement therapy can provide you with the chance to resolve these issues through exercises such as the empty chair technique and other role-playing scenarios.

Remembrance Rituals

A grief therapist could also help you to arrange "remembrance rituals" as a way of honoring your loved one. They may help you devise a specific activity (e.g., an art therapy project) or set aside a particular time of the month or year when you will spend time remembering.

Setting aside time to remember your loved one with intention is better than pushing aside memories when they pop up because you are afraid of becoming overwhelmed by emotions.


In short, bereavement therapy can help you cope with grief by helping you with accepting your feelings, caring for yourself, finding support, and remembering your loved one.

Types of Bereavement Therapy

Complicated grief therapy is a specific type of bereavement counseling aimed at those experiencing complicated grief.

This type of therapy is based on other techniques such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), interpersonal therapy (IPT), and attachment theory.

Some of the specific techniques used in complicated grief therapy include telling the story of the death, separating grief from trauma, organizing grief, dealing with guilt, and honoring your loved one.

Benefits of Bereavement Therapy

There are a number of benefits associated with bereavement therapy. Below are some reasons to consider this type of therapy if you are struggling with your grief:

(Video) How Grief Affects Your Brain And What To Do About It | Better | NBC News

  • Learn coping skills. Bereavement therapy can help you through one of the worst times of your life by learning new ways of coping and growing your mental strength in the face of adversity.
  • Express your emotions. Whether you are experiencing an immediate loss or one that is years old, bereavement counseling can help you to express your emotions and feel better even long after the original trauma.
  • Understand your grief. This type of therapy helps you to understand your grief and what to expect as you move through various stages of the grieving process (e.g., denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance).
  • Regain your sense of self. Bereavement therapy can help you to develop a new identity without your loved one, by shifting your focus to other areas of your life or other roles that you play (e.g., a widower might focus on getting together with friends if he used to spend every day with his spouse).
  • Deal with difficult emotions. If you are in the throes of grief, bereavement counseling can help you to work through the pain and emotions that you are experiencing in the moment.
  • Remember your loved one in a healthy way. This type of therapy can help you to maintain your connection to your loved one while still moving on with your life, which is an important step towards feeling good about the way that you remember that person.
  • Life management skills. Bereavement therapy can help you manage changes in your routine and adapt to your new life without your loved one. During this tumultuous time, having someone to help you through these changes can be important.

A 2017 study found that bereavement counseling was linked to long-term beneficial effects and reductions in symptoms of grief.

What Happens During Bereavement Therapy

During bereavement therapy, you can expect to be involved in some or any of the following therapeutic exercises. Your therapist might also guide you through others depending on your specific situation.

  • Describing your loved one’s death and your feelings and emotions about the event
  • Talking about any guilt that you have related to the death or events surrounding the death
  • Making sense of your situation and how to move forward with your life
  • Making a plan for your daily life if it has been greatly altered by the death of your loved one
  • Learning about tools and techniques that you can use to start to feel better in the moment
  • Speaking to your therapist in a private space where you can fully express yourself and not worry about being judged

Who Will Benefit Most From Bereavement Therapy?

You might be a particularly good candidate for bereavement counseling if any of the following are true for you:

  • You are struggling with processing the death of your loved one and your feelings have lasted longer than a year.
  • The death of your loved one has greatly altered your daily habits or how you live your life.
  • You do not have other support systems or anyone that you can talk to about the death.
  • You are interested in exploring your thoughts and emotions and learning strategies to cope better.
  • You are ready to move on with your life but also feel guilty about moving on.
  • You want to spend time remembering your loved one but find emotions overwhelming when you do.
  • You experienced trauma related to the loss of your loved one and have not adequately processed your feelings.

How to Find Bereavement Therapy

If you are in the middle of grieving, you might not be thinking clearly. It may be helpful to enlist someone close to you to help you look for bereavement therapists in your area or make an appointment with your family doctor to ask for a referral.

You may also wish to access a bereavement support group in place of or in addition to therapy if you would like to talk with other people who have been through the same things as you.

Best Online Grief Support Groups

A Word From Verywell

Are you struggling to get over the death of a loved one? If so, you might want to consider bereavement therapy.

This form of therapy is ideal for anyone experiencing grief related to the loss of a loved one. While it isn’t necessary to enter therapy right away, the sooner you get help in facing the challenging emotions involved in grief, the better you will be in the long run.

(Video) Grief COUNSELING Tips For Counselors ~ Grief Therapy ~ TIPS From a Hospice Bereavement Counselor

It's also important to remember that wanting to "feel better" might bring up some feelings of guilt. However, this is all part of the grieving process and something that a therapist can help you with.


What is the bereavement process? ›

Bereavement is the period of grief and mourning after a death. When you grieve, it's part of the normal process of reacting to a loss. You may experience grief as a mental, physical, social or emotional reaction. Mental reactions can include anger, guilt, anxiety, sadness and despair.

What are the three elements of bereavement? ›

This video discusses three elements of grief and loss: recognition, remembering and rebuilding.

What type of therapy is best for bereavement? ›

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.

What are the 4 stages of bereavement? ›

Experts generally accept that we go through 4 stages of bereavement or grief:
  • Accepting that your loss is real.
  • Experiencing the pain of grief.
  • Adjusting to life without the person or thing you have lost.
  • Putting less emotional energy into grieving and putting it into something new.

What is bereavement example? ›

Bereavement is the period of sadness and loneliness that we experience from a loss. Typically this loss is the death of a loved one; however, the loss can be due to other factors. For example, it is possible for someone to experience bereavement as a result of losing a spouse in a divorce.

How many stages are there in bereavement? ›

The five stages – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance – are often talked about as if they happen in order, moving from one stage to the other. You might hear people say things like 'Oh I've moved on from denial and now I think I'm entering the angry stage'. But this isn't often the case.

What are 3 things you can do to comfort a grieving person? ›

Here are some ways you can give support to someone who is grieving:
  1. Be a good listener. ...
  2. Respect the person's way of grieving. ...
  3. Accept mood swings. ...
  4. Avoid giving advice. ...
  5. Refrain from trying to explain the loss. ...
  6. Help out with practical tasks. ...
  7. Stay connected and available. ...
  8. Offer words that touch the heart.
1 Jul 2018

What is the most common feeling found in the bereaved? ›

Shock, denial or disbelief.

It is natural for our minds to try to protect us from pain, so following a loss some people may find that they feel quite numb about what has happened. Shock provides emotional protection from becoming overwhelmed, especially during the early stages of grief, and it can last a long time.

What is difference between grief and bereavement? ›

However, there is a difference between grief and bereavement. Grief describes the response to any type of loss. Bereavement is grief that involves the death of a loved one. Grief includes a variety of feelings that go along with the process of moving on from a significant change or loss.

What is the role of a bereavement counselor? ›

Bereavement counsellors are trained and qualified to help you process the feelings you have as you go through the stages of grief - denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance - and adapt to your new life.

How do therapists help work through grief? ›

In talk therapy, clients can explore the nuances of their grieving process. Clients can discuss contradictory feelings (“I wish I could have done more” and “I did all I could”), share memories and reminisce, and learn skills to cope with and honor the loss even while moving forward in life.

What is the psychological response to bereavement? ›

Grief reactions lead to complex somatic and psychological symptoms. Feelings: The person who experiences a loss may have a range of feelings, including shock, numbness, sadness, denial, anger, guilt, helplessness, depression, and yearning. A person may cry for no reason.

What is the hardest stage of grief? ›

Depression is usually the longest and most difficult stage of grief. Ironically, what brings us out of our depression is finally allowing ourselves to experience our very deepest sadness. We come to the place where we accept the loss, make some meaning of it for our lives and are able to move on.

What are the 5 emotional stages of death? ›

Persistent, traumatic grief can cause us to cycle (sometimes quickly) through the stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. These stages are our attempts to process change and protect ourselves while we adapt to a new reality.

What does normal bereavement mean? ›

Most people experiencing normal grief and bereavement have a period of sorrow, numbness, and even guilt and anger. Gradually these feelings ease, and it's possible to accept loss and move forward.

What is bereavement leave Meaning? ›

Definition of Bereavement leave: Bereavement leave or compassionate leave is a paid time-off category that employees can use following the death of a close friend or family member.

How long does bereavement last? ›

It's common for the grief process to take a year or longer. A grieving person must resolve the emotional and life changes that come with the death of a loved one. The pain may become less intense, but it's normal to feel emotionally involved with the deceased for many years.

How do you accept the loss of a loved one? ›

Moving on with life
  1. Talk about the death of your loved one with friends or colleagues in order to help you understand what happened and remember your friend or family member. ...
  2. Accept your feelings. ...
  3. Take care of yourself and your family. ...
  4. Reach out and help others dealing with the loss.
1 Jan 2020

How does death affect mental health? ›

Profound emotional reactions may occur. These reactions include anxiety attacks, chronic fatigue, depression and thoughts of suicide. An obsession with the deceased is also a common reaction to death.

What are five ways to support a grieving person? ›

5 ways to support a grieving friend or relative
  • Talk about it. It is normal to feel scared about making things more difficult or painful. ...
  • Make promises that you can keep. ...
  • Stay in touch. ...
  • Remember that everyone experiences grief differently. ...
  • Give them time.
24 Jan 2018

What are 6 positive ways of dealing with grief? ›

6 Ways to Cope with Grief
  • #1 Surround Yourself with People Who Care. ...
  • #2 Take Good Care of Yourself. ...
  • #3 Let Others Help You. ...
  • #4 Postpone Major Decisions, Whenever Possible. ...
  • #5 Consider Grief Counseling. ...
  • #6 Take Charge of Your New Life.
17 May 2018

What part of the body is affected by grief? ›

Grief can cause back pain, joint pain, headaches, and stiffness. The pain is caused by the overwhelming amount of stress hormones being released during the grieving process. These effectively stun the muscles they contact. Stress hormones act on the body in a similar way to broken heart syndrome.

What organ is affected by grief? ›

Grief is the emotion of the lungs and the large intestine, organs associated with the metal element. Loss of any kind will often trigger a feeling of being energetically drained and of having difficult bowel function.

What happens when you don't grieve? ›

Grief that is withheld and not recognised can have a negative impact on us emotionally as well as physically. If we unconsciously delay the grieving process and withhold emotions, this can manifest itself in physical ways such as headaches, difficulty sleeping, ailments and stomach problems.

Is bereavement only death? ›

While it's normal and natural to grieve the passing of a loved one, grief is not always exclusive to death. Grief is also about loss, and loss comes in many different forms. Some losses are easy to recognize, while others are harder to comprehend and understand.

How long is too long grieving? ›

Studies have shown that for most people, the worst symptoms of grief — depression, sleeplessness, loss of appetite — peak at six months. As the first year continues, you may find these feelings ebb. But it's normal to still feel some grief years after a death, especially on special occasions.

Is feeling sorry for yourself part of grief? ›

Self-pity and grief can overlap, especially after the shock and numbness of loss wears off. Grieving is about protesting the pain, feeling all the emotions, and slowly working through your anger, sadness, guilt, shame or frustration. It takes time to recognize, name and own your feelings.

What are 5 responsibilities of a therapist? ›

Mental Health Therapist Responsibilities:
  • Diagnose and treat mental health disorders.
  • Facilitate sessions with individuals, groups, or families.
  • Refer clients to specialists if necessary.
  • Create a treatment plan based on each client's needs.
  • Monitor client progress during treatment.

How do you counsel someone who is grieving? ›

Listen without judgment. Reflect what they say back to them, and ask them about their experience. Avoid telling them how they should or shouldn't think, feel, or behave in their grieving process. Hold a memorial service and allow them to say goodbye.

What is pre bereavement Counselling? ›

Pre-bereavement counselling gives a child a chance to think and talk about their feelings and share their worries. The YoungMinds website has more information on counselling services for children and young people.

Does therapy help with feeling lost? ›

Sometimes the best thing we can do is admit we are feeling lost and reach out for help. A talk therapist creates a safe, non-judgmental space for you to explore the roots of the way you are feeling, and helps you see the inner resources you have to move forward.

What is the best counselling technique? ›

The techniques are: (1) Directive Counselling, (2) Non-Directive Counselling, and (3) Eclectic Counselling. 1. Directive Counselling: In this counselling the counsellor plays an active role as it is regarded as a means of helping people how to learn to solve their own problems.

Is bereavement a trigger of stress? ›

Chronic stress also is common during acute grief and can lead to a variety of physical and emotional issues, such as depression, trouble sleeping, feelings of anger and bitterness, anxiety, loss of appetite, and general aches and pains.

What are the social effects of bereavement? ›

Social impacts of grief include: withdrawal; isolation; conflict due to people having different grieving styles; unrealistic expectations of others. Sometimes carers withdraw from others in order to cope with their grief or to avoid negative judgement.

How does bereavement affect self esteem? ›

A significant loss can shatter a survivor's self-esteem, leaving you to pick up the pieces and put yourself back together. Perhaps you feel you could have done more to prevent the loss, that you somehow failed the person who is gone. You may feel incomplete or “less than” without your loved one.

What is the hardest death to grieve? ›

  • The death of a husband or wife is well recognized as an emotionally devastating event, being ranked on life event scales as the most stressful of all possible losses. ...
  • There are two distinct aspects to marital partnerships.

What stage is grief crying? ›

Depression: Sadness sets in as you begin to understand the loss and its effect on your life. Signs of depression include crying, sleep issues, and a decreased appetite. You may feel overwhelmed, regretful, and lonely. Acceptance: In this final stage of grief, you accept the reality of your loss.

What three elements are essential in all bereavement? ›

This video discusses three elements of grief and loss: recognition, remembering and rebuilding.

What is the best way to overcome grief? ›

Tips to cope with reawakened grief
  1. Be prepared. Anniversary reactions are normal. ...
  2. Plan a distraction. ...
  3. Reminisce about your relationship. ...
  4. Start a new tradition. ...
  5. Connect with others. ...
  6. Allow yourself to feel a range of emotions.

What are 3 typical grief reactions? ›

Your emotions or feelings from grief may include shock, numbness, sadness, denial, despair, and/or anger. You might experience anxiety or depression. You can also feel guilty, relieved, or helpless.

What is the most important stage to reach when dealing with death or loss? ›

Acceptance. The last of the 5 Stages of Grief is acceptance. When we come to a place of acceptance, it is not that we no longer feel the pain of loss. Instead, we are no longer resisting the reality of our situation, and we are not struggling to make it something different.

Can you skip stages of grief? ›

You may remain in one of the stages of grief for months but skip other stages entirely. This is typical. It takes time to go through the grieving process.

Which method can help a person cope with grief on his or her own? ›

Which method can help a person cope with grief on his or her own? maintaining a daily routine seeking help from a counselor talking with friends in a peer group finding outside perspectives about the loss.

How long is the bereavement process? ›

It's common for the grief process to take a year or longer. A grieving person must resolve the emotional and life changes that come with the death of a loved one. The pain may become less intense, but it's normal to feel emotionally involved with the deceased for many years.

How much time do you get off work for bereavement? ›

From our research with employers, a typical amount is five days paid leave, but it's often more than that – two weeks is quite common. If there is no bereavement policy, you might be able to take time off as sick leave or holiday leave.

How long do you get from work for bereavement? ›

How long can I have off work after a bereavement? There is no set legal amount of time off work you are entitled to after someone has died. It is common for employers to give about three to five days, but all organisations have different policies and/or exercise their discretion differently.

How do I process bereavement leave? ›

In the event of the loss of a loved one, please contact your manager to request bereavement leave as soon as possible after the loss. Your manager or a representative from human resources will confirm your leave request and any other necessary details.

What is the difference between mourning and bereavement? ›

Bereavement is the period after a loss during which grief and mourning occurs. The time spent in bereavement for the loss of a loved one depends on the circumstances of the loss and the level of attachment to the person who died. Mourning is the process by which people adapt to a loss.

What is the difference between grief and bereavement? ›

However, there is a difference between grief and bereavement. Grief describes the response to any type of loss. Bereavement is grief that involves the death of a loved one. Grief includes a variety of feelings that go along with the process of moving on from a significant change or loss.

Which stage of grief is the hardest? ›

Depression is usually the longest and most difficult stage of grief. Ironically, what brings us out of our depression is finally allowing ourselves to experience our very deepest sadness. We come to the place where we accept the loss, make some meaning of it for our lives and are able to move on.

Do employers ask for proof of bereavement? ›

Businesses may require employees to show documentation of the death (by way of a death certificate or obituary) within thirty days of the first day of bereavement leave. This measure will apply to all businesses in California, regardless of size.

How do you tell your boss about bereavement? ›

A formal letter is often best, but an email may suffice for some workplaces. Ask what your company prefers in your face-to-face or phone call meeting. Write your request for bereavement leave in a formal, polite tone. Send your request to your company's human resources department or your supervisor.

Should you tell your boss about a death in the family? ›

If you're dealing with the loss of a loved one, “you should immediately contact your supervisor to see if you can take some time off,” Kalish says—even if your company doesn't have a specific bereavement leave policy.

Do I need a sick note for bereavement? ›

Long-term leave

If you're on long term compassionate leave and don't feel able to go back to work, make an appointment with your GP. They may give you a doctor's note saying you're not fit to work because of the bereavement, which may help you make a case to your employer for staying on leave longer.

What can bereavement be used for? ›

An employee can use bereavement leave for a variety of purposes, including making funeral arrangements, attending a funeral, taking care of post-death tasks, and grieving. While many employers offer their employees bereavement leave, there is currently no federal law requiring this type of leave.

Should I take all my bereavement leave? ›

Take the individual's lead.

Please don't make decisions for those grieving. If they want to take on more work, give it to them. If they don't want to take their full bereavement time off, don't insist that they do. If they want to talk about the loss, listen.


1. The Physical Symptoms of Grief
(Therapy in a Nutshell)
2. Grief Counselling: 3 Techniques Therapists Can Use
(Uncommon Practitioners)
3. Bereavement counselling
(The Counselling Channel)
4. We don't "move on" from grief. We move forward with it | Nora McInerny
5. Why We Don't "Move On" from Grief | MeCircle
6. Bereavement and loss counselling: working with grief
(The Counselling Channel)
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