Suzanne Watson MD, MDiv, MEd

Del Mar Psychiatry


In-Person Appointments & Telemedicine Available, 317 14th Street, Suite D
 Del Mar, CA 92014

Grief Counseling

In recent decades, various types of grief counseling have been developed to help individuals cope with the intense and complicated pain involved in losing a loved one. It has been accepted that loss involves many emotions which must be dealt with before the bereaved individual can successfully move on and adapt to the changes wrought by the death. For many people, assistance in the form of grief counseling is a necessary part of the process. Grief counselors, trained in the discipline, may be clergy, psychiatric nurses, physician assistants (PAs), psychologists, nurse practitioners, social workers, or psychiatrists.

Stages of Grief

In the late 1960s, Kübler-Ross, who worked with the terminally ill, postulated five stages of grief. These stages are: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Individuals suffering a great loss often pass through these stages, although not in any specified order. Understanding that grieving is a complex process, involving a wide range of emotions, is important for individuals seeking to get their lives back in order. Realizing that, in addition to sadness and longing, it is normal to experience resentment, guilt, anger and relief after a loved one dies, can be reassuring and helpful.

Behavior of Grief

As people move forward after the death of a loved one, they may find solace in differing behaviors. While outbursts of tears may be the expected reaction, attacks of laughter also may occur. Grieving individuals may also:

  • Obsessively clean or organize
  • Withdraw socially
  • Become absent-minded or forgetful
  • Engage in ritualized behavior
  • Eat more or less than usual
  • Seek comfort in alcohol or drugs
  • Experience sleep disturbances
  • Become highly emotional or emotionally flat
Complicated Grief

The loss of a loved one is one of the most difficult things a person goes through in life. Most people experiencing normal grief and bereavement experience some of the symptoms described above, but over time though,  these feelings ease, the loss is accepted, the person moves  forward.


However, for some people, the feelings don't improve even after time passes. This is known as complicated grief, sometimes called persistent complex bereavement disorder. In complicated grief, painful emotions are so long lasting and severe that the person has trouble recovering from the loss and resuming their own life.

If you experienced the loss of a loved one over a year ago and are still struggling, you may have complicated grief. If so, seek treatment. It can help you come to terms with your loss and reclaim a sense of acceptance and peace.

Types of Grief Counseling

Several types of grief counseling are available, including one-on-one psychotherapy and bereavement groups. The dynamics of such therapies vary but may include discussion and sharing, meditative or relaxation techniques, cognitive behavioral training, or art therapy. If the loss suffered has taken place under particularly traumatic circumstances, hypnosis may also be used. When the grieving individual is found to be suffering from clinical depression, antidepressant medication is usually prescribed.

Bereavement groups may be organized around the special circumstances of death. There are, for example, bereavement groups especially designed for parents who have lost children, children who have lost parents, or for people grieving for loved ones who have committed suicide or have been murdered.

The Hospice Foundation of America offers grief support groups, and is a good source of information. Click HERE to visit the HFA website. 

Additional Resources

Del Mar Psychiatry