Grief therapy refers to the form of psychotherapy that aims to help an individual face and overcome a loss, mainly of a loved one, in a healthy way.

Since the death of someone we love is one of the most devastating experiences we can suffer, and is one of the greatest challenges a person faces throughout his or her life, many men and women need the help of psychology professionals specialized in this field.

Overcoming the death of a loved one is a slow process

Statistics show that each year in Spain, about one and a half million individuals experience the loss of a loved one. This painful process, which can lead someone to an existential crisis, requires a more or less long time to regain emotional balance.

Although many people face suffering and complete the process, approximately 10 to 20% may experience what is known as complicated or pathological grief : after six months from the death, the individual does not manage to overcome the grieving process. This disrupts the normal functioning of his life and behavioural, cognitive and affective disorders appear.

The typical feelings experienced by grieving individuals , and treated by psychologists and psychotherapists specializing in this type of therapy, include sadness, anxiety, anger, loneliness, guilt, isolation or confusion. Changes at the cognitive, affective and behavioral levels also include feelings of disorganization and tiredness, concentration problems, sleep problems, appetite changes, nightmares or constant thoughts about the deceased.

The goal of grief therapy

The purpose of grief therapy is to help restore patients’ emotional balance through the process of psychological counseling in which the feelings, thoughts and memories associated with the loss of a loved one are worked through . Although grief may also occur for other types of loss (such as loss of life goals, ideals, and relationships), this therapy is usually directed toward a positive adjustment after the death of a loved one.

Grief therapy allows the patient to understand and recognise the normal aspects of the grieving process, helps them to cope with the pain associated with the loss, to feel supported at such a sensitive time and of important changes in their life and to develop strategies to be able to overcome this situation in a healthy way.

In other words, grief therapy makes it easier for the subject to express himself emotionally about the loss, to accept this traumatic event , to adapt to life after such a painful situation and to cope with the changes within oneself and the environment around one after the event.

Why psychological help is so important

To some extent it is normal that after the death of a loved one, people suffer from an enormous feeling of emptiness, pain and confusion. However, when these negative reactions last for a long time it can become pathological .

In addition, there are certain circumstances in which complications may occur that make the grieving process not normal. These circumstances may involve the loss of a child, or the loss of a loved one due to an accident or homicide, for example.

In these cases, more extreme responses to loss may be observed, depending on the individual’s ability to cope, his personal resilience and the support system available to him.

Everyone experiences grief differently. While some fit this situation and manage to overcome it after a few months, others may feel so unable to move forward that they require the help of a specialist to return to normal and restore balance to their daily routine.

How a psychotherapist can specialize in grief therapy

Undoubtedly, grief therapy is also a major challenge for psychologists, who must respond to this need with updated training that allows them to acquire the tools for the identification, prevention and treatment of grief and loss situations.

Psychologists and therapists who wish to dedicate themselves to this type of therapy must complement their university studies with some specialised training in this area.

Training in grief therapy

In different cities in Spain, training courses are given to specialize in grief therapy. These courses aim to offer participants the knowledge and therapeutic tools necessary for grief therapy ; and contribute to their adopting the correct attitude towards the patient, so important in dealing with this issue.

Students will be able to acquire skills to diagnose and differentiate normal grief from complicated grief and will learn about psychological therapy intervention techniques for its treatment. Not only that, but they will be able to apply these intervention techniques, thanks to the methodology of the course, which combines theory and practice, and includes, in addition to role-playing and visualization of sessions, case supervision.

This theoretical-practical training is designed for the assimilation of the aspects studied, and allows students to deepen their experience and analysis of clinical practice . In short, at the end of the course the students will be able to carry out an adequate diagnostic evaluation by themselves and will be able to design and put into practice a therapeutic intervention that takes into account the needs of the grieving patient, his or her personal characteristics and the context in which it takes place.