Bereavement therapy is a specialised mental health service offered to people who are struggling with mourning the loss, typically the death of a loved one. To understand why this form of therapy can help you, and whether you or a loved one needs it, first we need to have a closer look at the complexity of grieving patterns.
What is bereavement?
Loss is an inevitable part of life. We know that one day we might lose a close friend or family member and yet when it happens, this loss can leave us feeling lost, hopeless, and sad. Over the years, the idea that grief comes in five stages (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance) became widely accepted. Still, not many people know that this categorisation is in no way universal. A grieving person doesn’t necessarily have to go through all these stages in this exact order. In fact, navigating the loss of a loved one is a deeply personal process that everyone experiences differently, depending on their personality, beliefs, relationship with the lost loved one, and circumstances of their passing.
Bereavement therapy vs bereavement counselling
Although the terms “therapy” and “counselling” are often used interchangeably, they don’t entirely refer to the same thing. The difference between them lies in the intensity of the grieving process and how well you are able to cope with the loss.
While grief counselling refers to the sessions that a person receives to better cope with mild grieving symptoms, grief therapy refers to more complicated grief cases where the grieving patterns are more intense, uncommon, span across a more extended period, and prevent you from functioning normally. For example, bereavement therapy is recommended if you struggle with:
- Severe symptoms of anxiety and depression
- Trouble sleeping, eating and focusing
- A high level of jumpiness and irritability
- Blaming yourself for the loss of a loved one
- Thinking that life without your loved one no longer has meaning
- Talking about joining your loved one, having suicidal thoughts
Although such symptoms can appear in many circumstances, bereavement therapy is usually recommended when the loss was very unexpected (suicide, natural disaster, terrorist attack), or you had a complicated relationship and were left with many unresolved matters. Bereavement therapy can also help if the grieving friend or relative doesn’t have remaining friends and family to support them.
How can therapy help?
The loss of a loved one can feel very overwhelming, and if you or someone you know has trouble returning to normal life, therapy can make a huge difference. Contrary to popular belief, the purpose of therapy isn’t to just move on as if nothing happened; the purpose of therapy is to come to terms with the loss, understand their reactions to it, and develop healthy coping mechanisms. To this end, the therapist can use medication, psychotherapy, or a combination of both, but the focus always falls on the uniqueness of the grieving process. With therapy, you can learn to focus on yourself once again and continue to enjoy a fulfilling personal or professional life, while at the same time acknowledging and honouring what your loved one meant for you.