Grief: When Should I Reach Out?
Posted: August 5, 2022
Knowing when or if to reach out to a grief counselor after experiencing a loss can be very challenging.
Our culture and our society often give us the message that we should be “over” a loss after a short period. We’re expected to return to work very soon after losing a spouse, parent, friend, or child, sometimes in unexpected, traumatic ways. People might say very unhelpful things, like “When do you think you might date again”, or “They’re in heaven now, no longer suffering”. These comments are well-meaning. But, these statements give the message that we shouldn’t be feeling what we are feeling and that we should move on. This contributes to grief being a very confusing experience.
Furthermore, most people in our culture and our society hide their emotions. We see people that have experienced a significant loss that appear to be moving on and no longer suffering. We may think, “What’s wrong with me? Why is my grief so disruptive?” We see this on Facebook and Instagram. Everyone’s lives look perfect. In reality, people show us what they want us to see. When we lose someone we care about, we suffer, no matter what we show the outside world. This confusion about our feelings of grief makes it hard to know if or when we need to reach out to a grief counselor.
Successful Mourning: Moving from Acute Grief to Integrated Grief
Having an understanding of what to expect when we grieve can help us to know if we may need extra support. As human beings, we are bio-behaviorally motivated to become attached to between one and five people at any given time in our lives. These people play a huge role in our lives. These are the people we go to when we need encouragement, support, soothing, and help with problem-solving. Because of the role these people play in our lives, they regulate so many different aspects of who we are. There is significant evidence that these attachment relationships regulate us:
- They regulate our self-esteem
- And, they even regulate us immunologically
In adult relationships, these roles are often reciprocal.
We play this same role for the attachment figure as they play for us. We are caregivers to each other. Given this understanding, it makes sense that when we lose one of these attachment figures, we feel devastated. It is like an earthquake. Our world is very disrupted. We are distraught because we have lost someone that regulates us in so many ways. Furthermore, our bio-behavioral need to care for our loved ones is disrupted as well. All grief is unique, but these factors lead to some commonalities that we refer to as acute grief. Some symptoms of acute grief include:
- Being preoccupied with our thoughts
- Ruminating about the loss
- Intense yearning for our loved one
- Longing, and sorrow
- And persistent thoughts and memories of our lost loved one
Our minds tend to look at the loss and try to make sense of it. Then, we find natural respite by engaging in mundane or even enjoyable activities.
The mind does this over and over again and continues until our minds have learned that the loss has occurred. This is called mourning, and there is no set timetable for this. After mourning, we are left in a state of integrated grief. In this state, we still experience grief, but the feelings soften and are no longer as disruptive. People experiencing integrated grief often report they feel a bittersweet, ongoing connection with their lost loved one.
Prolonged Grief Disorder (Formerly known as Complicated Grief Disorder)
This mourning process often occurs in a natural way, with no therapeutic intervention needed. But, some people (about 10 percent of grievers) get “stuck” in their grief. Because their feelings are so intense or painful, some people may avoid looking at the loss in various ways. This may include avoiding reminders of their lost loved ones. Thus, their minds don’t have an opportunity to learn that the loss has occurred and make sense of it. Or, they get stuck ruminating on unhelpful thoughts, keeping them stuck in their grief. Some grievers might have difficulty restoring their lives, and finding meaning and purpose.
When these circumstances occur, it can be very hard to move from acute grief to integrated grief. We can get stuck in a perpetual state of acute grief. There is no set timetable for when successful mourning (acute grief becomes integrated grief) occurs and all grief journeys are different. The Center for Prolonged Grief Disorder, which boasts the most evidence-based grief treatment in the world, recommends beginning treatment for Prolonged Grief Disorder at around six months.
When Is Reaching Out To A Grief Counselor Beneficial?
Feeling “stuck”, like our grief is not progressing, is often a sign that grief treatment could be helpful. It’s recommended to see a therapist around six months after a loss if you don’t believe your grief is progressing. But, it can be beneficial to see a therapist at any point in your grief journey. A well-trained grief counselor can help you make sense of the loss, assist you in understanding your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and even help to prevent prolonged grief disorder (formerly complicated grief disorder) from occurring.
Begin Working With A Grief Counselor in Cincinnati, OH, and Erlanger, KY
Reaching out for support is much easier said than done. But, doing so can offer therapeutic healing. A grief counselor can help equip you with coping skills to manage grief for years to come. I would be honored to offer support from my Erlanger, KY-based therapy practice. To start your therapy journey with Kyle Linnemann Counseling, please follow these simple steps:
- Contact me to learn more about therapy
- Start online or in-person therapy sessions
- Begin learning how to adapt to your loss in more helpful ways
Other Services Offered with Kyle Linnemann Counseling
Grief counseling isn’t the only service I offer. I understand there are a variety of mental health issues you may face, which is why I’m happy to offer a variety of services. Mental health services offered include anger management, anxiety therapy, depression treatment, and ACT therapy. I also offer individual therapy for relationship issues, CBT, and stress. I am also happy to offer further support with both in-person and online therapy services in Kentucky and Ohio with Humana therapy coverage, and other insurance plans. Feel free to learn more by visiting my blog, FAQ, and resources page.