Grief is a common emotional response to loss. However, it can be a complex experience to navigate and may develop into a prolonged grief disorder or be difficult to cope with. With help from Basanti Counseling, you can address your grief in a supportive environment and begin your journey toward healing.

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Mourning is the process of experiencing and expressing grief. Some expressions of grief — such as a lack of energy — can mirror the symptoms of depression. When grief is very intense and lasts for a long period, it may meet the criteria for Prolonged Grief Disorder or complicated grief, another name for the same experience.

Grief commonly involves apathy and despondency, loss of interest in the outside world, and decreased activity. These reactions mirror depression but are less persistent and are not considered pathological.

Prolonged Grief Disorder (PGD)

After losing someone you love, the intense feelings of despair tend to diminish after six months (twelve months for children and teens). If these emotions do not decrease after this period and remain difficult to manage, you may be experiencing PGD. Prolonged grief can severely impact your ability to function in everyday life.

Studies estimate that 7%-10% of grieving adults will experience prolonged grief disorder. Meanwhile, 5-10% of children will experience depression, PTSD, or prolonged grief disorder, after the loss of a loved one.

Symptoms of Prolonged Grief Disorder

According to the American Psychiatric Association, the conditions for prolonged grief are met when at least three of the following symptoms are experienced for at least twelve months.

  1. Feeling as though part of yourself has died
  2. Difficulty processing that the death occurred
  3. Avoiding reminders that the person has died
  4. Intense emotional struggles (such as rage, resentment, and grief)
  5. Difficulty spending time with friends, engaging in hobbies, or planning for the future
  6. Feelings of emotional numbness
  7. Feeling that life has no purpose or value
  8. Feelings of loneliness and isolation.

Risk factors for prolonged grief

  • Having cared for the person who died, especially as a partner of the deceased
  • When the death occurred suddenly, unexpectedly, or under traumatic circumstances
  • Advanced age
  • Prior history of depression or bipolar disorder

Treatment for prolonged grief

Studies have shown that treatment plans using cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can be particularly effective in managing the symptoms of prolonged grief.

CBT is a structured therapeutic approach aimed at helping you cope with the loss of a loved one by addressing your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. In CBT, you work with a therapist to identify and challenge negative thought patterns related to the loss, such as feelings of guilt or self-blame. Through various techniques like cognitive restructuring, you can learn to reframe your thoughts in a more balanced and realistic way, which can alleviate distress and improve coping mechanisms.

Additionally, CBT often includes behavioral strategies to help you gradually reintegrate into your daily life and engage in activities that bring you a sense of purpose and fulfillment, despite the pain of the loss.

Complicated grief treatment is a specialized therapeutic approach designed to help you heal from prolonged and intense grief reactions following the loss of a loved one. CGT incorporates elements of cognitive-behavioral therapy and focuses on addressing the specific symptoms of complicated grief.

In CGT, you will work collaboratively with a trained therapist to explore your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors related to the loss in a supportive and empathetic environment. The treatment typically involves techniques such as imaginal revisiting of the loss, which helps you process your emotions and memories associated with the deceased. CGT also incorporates cognitive restructuring to question unhelpful thoughts about the loss and its implications for the future.

The five stages of grief

The five stages of the grief model advanced by Swiss-American psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her 1969 book On Death and Dying, have been widely criticized. While it is true that these stages don’t apply to everyone, and often occur simultaneously with each other, the model can be valuable to you as a means of understanding where you may be stuck. The stages are as follows:

  1. Denial: Refusal to accept reality
  2. Anger: Intense frustration involving outbursts and erratic behavior
  3. Bargaining: Attempting to make negotiations or compromises
  4. Depression: Intense feelings of sadness, low energy, and low motivation
  5. Acceptance: Coming to terms with the reality and resolving to move forward

Disenfranchised or hidden grief

Disenfranchised or hidden grief is when your specific experience is seen as less valid on a societal scale, provoking you to express your grief more privately. Examples of disenfranchised grief can include grieving for a stillborn baby, for a patient, or for an animal companion. This experience can be particularly isolating and can get in the way of recovery.

Tips for grieving

Experiencing loss can throw our sense of stability out of balance. Grieving can help you adjust to this new reality and move forward. Here are 5 important things to remember during this time.

  1. Remember that it is ok to not be ok. Having trouble functioning is normal during times like these, and recovery takes time.
  2. Remember to take care of your physical health. Make sure to eat and drink well and get enough sleep.
  3. Remember that your loved ones are here for you, reach out to friends and family for support.
  4. Consider joining a support group. It can be helpful to be surrounded by others who are experiencing similar emotions as you.
  5. Reach out to Basanti Counseling for help, especially if you feel that you may be developing prolonged grief disorder or simply need extra support.

Reach out today

Grieving the loss of a loved one is a profound and often challenging experience. When grief becomes prolonged or complicated, it can significantly impact daily life and emotional well-being. Understanding the symptoms and seeking appropriate treatment, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, can help manage these intense emotions and pave the way to healing. If you or someone you know is struggling with prolonged grief, don’t hesitate to reach out for professional support. Contact Basanti Counseling today to take the first step toward a healthier, more fulfilling life. Together, we can navigate the journey through grief and find a path to recovery.