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Bereavement Counseling: Can It Help You?

Grief or bereavement counseling is a type of psychotherapy specifically designed to help people who are coping with the death of a loved one—or with a disruptive life change that causes a similar feeling of loss, such as a divorce. While not everybody may need it, this type of counseling can be helpful for many people dealing with debilitating loss. Here are a few frequently asked questions about bereavement counseling.

How do I know if I need grief counseling?

Upset Couple

Dealing with the loss of a loved one or another major life change can be difficult—and it can be hard to get the support you need or even discuss your grief with others.

Most counselors will say that you need grief counseling if you have recently faced a painful loss, especially if you are disabled by your grief—and you’re having difficulty coping on a daily basis. If you are having trouble functioning at work, taking care of normal family demands, or interacting with others, you may need grief counseling. The same is true if you are having trouble sleeping, can’t concentrate, or are having medical problems or eating issues rooted in grief.

Grief counseling can be necessary in cases of “anticipatory grieving” as well—when grief causes you to worry deeply about the death of a person who is healthy and not likely to die in the foreseeable future. In addition, “anticipatory grief” can sometimes make it more difficult to deal with a loved one with a terminal illness. This kind of grief can make it harder to have quality time with this person while he or she still lives, and grief counseling can be helpful for living family members during the dying process.  

It’s generally believed that when the natural grieving process is interrupted—in order to take care of practical considerations or be the “strong one” in the family—grief will resurface later and may be more difficult to deal with then. If you are the person generally expected to “hold it together” for the family, or if you have not allowed yourself to grieve in order to manage daily tasks, you may be a good candidate for grief counseling as well.  

What is the goal of grief counseling?

Most grief counselors work toward something called “resolution”—. The philosophy of bereavement counseling suggests that there is no wrong way to express grief, and that grief may be expressed by a wide range of emotions—from deep sadness to anger, guilt, withdrawal, or even joy. Grief counselors believe that those suffering from a debilitating loss need emotional support—and that support is frequently lacking in our fragmented society.

What happens in a grief counseling session?

To a large extent, what happens in your grief counseling sessions will depend on what you need—and your grief counselor’s assessment and talents. However, in general, grief counselors will help their patients identify and deal with the feelings surrounding loss, develop strategies for coping with debilitating loss and life without the deceased, develop strategies for building a support network, and provide a safe place for the expression of grief. In addition, a grief counselor can differentiate between the normal grieving process and severe psychological traumas that may need additional professional help.

Is grief counseling covered by my insurance?

Some private insurance plans include mental health coverage that pays for various counseling services, including grief counseling. If you are privately insured, consult your grief counselor’s office and your insurance company to determine the details of coverage.

Medicare and Medicaid generally do not cover grief counseling, unless you qualify for hospice care—which is reserved for people with terminal medical conditions and their families. In that case, bereavement counseling may be covered if it is provided by a Medicare-approved hospice. Specific rules governing hospice care and what qualifies for Medicare or Medicaid-covered care vary by state.

Dealing with the loss of a loved one or another major life change can be difficult—and it can be hard to get the support you need or even discuss your grief with others. That’s where grief counselors come in. They’ll help you deal with loss in a way that’s healthy, and develop strategies for coping both on an emotional and a practical level.