By Anha Jhuremalani
According to the US Census Bureau, there are 2.6 million deaths per year in the United States, from which there are on average five grievers per death. This totals to 13 million grievers annually. Given many of us are likely to experience grief in our lifetime, how much do we really know about it?
It is difficult (and sometimes impossible!) to define grief. There is no right or wrong way, and we often experience grief differently. However, we can recognize that grief encompasses powerful emotions in response to loss, including disbelief or protest, guilt, and separation anxiety, to name a few. Therefore, understanding how to support ourselves and others during these difficult times can prove really beneficial.
Here are some ways in which we can support ourselves, our community, and our clients:
- Empathic Listening and Support
- Research suggests that just listening to someone who is sharing their story of loss and grief can be one of the most impactful ways to support them.
- If you are lending an ear to a grieving person, or if you are going through the process yourself, having a self-care routine can stabilize and regulate your emotions, as well as increase self-compassion. These may include meditating, reading a book, going for a walk, or calling a friend.
- Emotion Monitoring
- Keeping a journal of how you are feeling, when you felt a certain way, and reflecting on the intensity of your emotions over the course of the week can help you understand specific emotional triggers, as well as identify thought and behavioral patterns.
- Joining a bereavement support group
- Support groups can be helpful to process traumatic losses, such as pregnancy and infant loss or death by suicide.
- Seek help
- Grief counselors are trained to be able to sit and be present with the grief. This means that a traditionally uncomfortable or “taboo” subject such as death can be explored in a safe and non-judgmental space.
Approximately 10-15% of bereaved people are diagnosed with prolonged grief disorder due to an inability to transition from acute grief to integrated grief. In such instances, prolonged grief disorder therapy (PGDT) has proven to be significantly more efficacious than standard psychotherapy (1). PGDT encompasses cognitive behavioral techniques, interpersonal psychotherapy, and motivational interviewing. This approach invites exploration, meaning-making, and coming to terms with the loss, whilst simultaneously facilitating re-engagement in day-to-day activities that may have been neglected or avoided.
So, how do we assess whether grief therapies are efficacious? One way to monitor change is by observing the person’s behaviors and the intensity of their feelings. Another way is to conduct questionnaires based on empirically-supported scales, such as The Work and Social Adjustment Scale. In both, we not only learn how the person perceives and engages with the loss (i.e., whether they continue to engage in maladaptive behaviors, counterfactual thoughts (“If only …”), or self-blame), but we can also determine if they have been able to integrate grief into their life.
Thank you for reading. Are you looking for additional support to cope with loss and grief? Contact us today.
Ask for Help
Sometimes our losses hurt so deeply that we can’t find ways to cope on our own. If grief prevents you from working, studying, caring for yourself and your loved ones, we advise seeking professional guidance.
Therapy can help you manage grief so you can resume your life. A therapist will offer a private space to explore and acknowledge your pain and find a healthy route to channel it.
At Let’s Talk Psychological Wellness, we provide therapy for grief and loss, among other services, to serve the NYC community during this challenging time. We also support individuals across the State of New York through teletherapy.
If you are struggling with grief, we are here for you.
Contact us to learn more.
Mundt, J., Marks, I., Shear, M., & Greist, J. (2002). The Work and Social Adjustment Scale: A simple measure of impairment in functioning. British Journal of Psychiatry, 180(5), 461-464. doi:10.1192/bjp.180.5.461
Zisook, S. & Shear, K. (2009). Grief and bereavement: What psychiatrists need to know. World Psychiatry, 8(2), 67–74. https://doi.org/10.1002/j.2051-5545.2009.tb00217.x