The third Tuesday of November is National Grief and Bereavement Day in Canada. It is a day to recognize the resources available to assist Canadians grieving the loss of a loved one. In honour of this upcoming awareness day, we are bringing you this guide to bereavement counselling. Bereavement counselling provides support to individuals undergoing the grieving process. How long after bereavement before counselling is needed? We will help you understand the answer to this question and many more in this post, so keep reading.
Table of Contents
What Is Bereavement Counselling?
Bereavement counselling is a service people seek after the death of a loved one, being diagnosed with a terminal illness, or the death of a patient under their care. It is also known as grief or grievance counselling.
You may be a good candidate for bereavement counselling if you are undergoing the normal grieving process. Sessions may consist of individual or group meetings. Counsellors offer support and companionship after the loss.
Importantly, grief counselling is not the same as grief therapy. Candidates for grief therapy suffer from complicated mourning processes, which may go on past the time considered normal by grieving experts (i.e., six months).
The Goals of Bereavement Counselling
There are three primary goals of bereavement counselling. They are:
- To accept the loss
- To process pain, anger, and other feelings
- To adjust to life after loss and move on
Grief counsellors primarily use talk therapy to achieve these aims. They may encourage clients to talk about the loss, its meaning, and the emotions surrounding their grief.
Some counsellors may use specific techniques, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or art therapy. They may also teach clients self-care strategies and coping skills to overcome this challenging time.
How Do I Get Bereavement Counselling?
You can get bereavement counselling through public and private programs. Availability will depend on the area where you live, your budget, and other factors. Here are some of the best places to begin the search.
Speak to Your General Practitioner
Your general practitioner may know of community bereavement counsellors or support groups in the area and can provide a referral. People suffering from complicated grief can also get information regarding therapy offerings.
Go Through Hospice
Many hospice programs offer bereavement support to their clients’ families and close friends. Loved ones may have access to a trained grief counsellor or general resources that can connect them to one.
Go Through Your Employer
Some employee assistance programs offer bereavement counselling benefits. Often, these services are free up to a specified number of sessions. Inquire about this benefit to the human resources department to learn more.
Pay Out of Pocket
Many private counsellors and therapists specialize in bereavement. They may work in private practice or offer services through an outpatient counselling program, like the one at Simcoe Addiction and Mental Health.
How Soon for Bereavement Counselling?
How soon for bereavement counselling is different for everyone and ranges from a few months to decades after the person’s death. Many people prefer to wait at least until the funeral and other practical matters are resolved.
Though experts used to try to standardize the human grieving process, they have since realized that no two people mourn in the same way. Grieving norms differ by culture, gender, age, and many other factors.
It is never too early or too late to seek grief counselling. A bereavement professional can help people process the loss, provide much-needed support, and ensure they cope well enough to go about their day.
How Soon Should You Seek Grief Therapy?
You should seek grief therapy if your grieving process has lasted longer than expected or is so overwhelming that you can’t function. Remember, grief therapy is not the same as grief counselling.
Where grief counselling focuses on providing support and companionship, grief therapy is a more comprehensive treatment. It is also ideal for people with pre-existing mental health conditions who recently experienced loss.
Complicated grieving processes and people with pre-existing mental illnesses require a different approach.
What Happens During Bereavement Counselling?
During bereavement counselling, counsellors will guide individuals through the grieving process. The treatment timeline will vary depending on the counsellor and your unique experience.
However, the following goals are typical of most bereavement counselling sessions.
Grief can bring many negative emotions, including anger, sadness, and guilt. Healthily expressing these feelings is essential for recovery. Counsellors can help clients identify their emotions, listen, and provide validation.
Many people describe themselves as feeling empty after a loss. They may cope by avoiding thoughts of their loved one entirely. Counselling can help these individuals accept and process death in a healthier, more productive way.
Losing a loved one is always traumatic but can be particularly so after witnessing the death. Processing this trauma in counselling can help prevent potential complications, such as the development of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Guilt is another emotion people commonly experience while grieving. They may blame themselves or wish they had passed away instead. A counsellor can help individuals work through these complex emotions, allowing them to move on.
After a loss, people still have obligations to meet and others to care for. Things could be exacerbated if the person must take on tasks the departed used to do for them. Counselling can help make these aspects easier to manage.
Social support systems can help people connect with others who are grieving. Group bereavement counselling programs help unite like-minded individuals to support each others’ healing journeys.
Developing Coping Skills
Group and individual counselling can also teach people skills to help cope with their grief. Journaling, reading books about grieving, doing art therapy, or participating in remembrance rituals are excellent ways to process grief.
Sometimes, grief can progress to a depressive disorder. Depression is a common symptom of complicated grief, affecting as many as 10% of people with the condition. Some counsellors have the experience and credentials to diagnose and treat depression related to bereavement.
More Ways to Find Grief Support
If bereavement counselling is unavailable near you, consider enrolling in a virtual grief support group. You can access these services anywhere, as long as you have an internet connection.
The following websites offer online bereavement support groups:
- com: A free service featuring forums, group chats, and other resources for members grieving various types of loss
- Grief in Common: A free service providing the option to add on live chats with other people who are grieving for $10 per year
- Hope Again: A free service for young people aged 12 to 25 who have experienced the loss of a loved one
- Online Grief Support: A free forum allowing people suffering from specific types of grief to connect via chat
- Grief Healing: A free online support group with moderated discussions to ensure conversations are safe for all participants
Importantly, these groups should not replace professional care, especially for more serious symptoms like depression. Still, they are an excellent supplement to in-person bereavement counselling sessions.
Grieving Someone Lost but Not Gone
It is common to conflate grief with death, but you can also undergo bereavement due to ambiguous loss. Ambiguous loss happens when someone mourns the loss of someone who is still alive.
Grieving an ambiguous loss can happen due to divorce, a relationship ending, a broken friendship, the death of a pet, or a loved one going to prison. It is also common among people with loved ones who are addicted to substances.
Family support groups and individual counselling sessions are also available to these people. Individuals can grieve the loss of their relationship with their loved ones and learn how to move on.
Is Bereavement Counselling Free?
Yes, some types of bereavement counselling are free, though not all. For example, the virtual support groups we listed above are free. You can also find no-cost bereavement services through Bereaved Families of Ontario.
Unfortunately, these are self-help or peer support services. They can still be beneficial but not as customized and effective as sessions with a professional bereavement counsellor.
In many cases, insurers offer benefits for bereavement. However, most require the service to be part of treatment for a diagnosable condition. Talk to your insurance provider to learn more about grief counselling coverage.
Bereavement Counselling in Ontario
Bereavement counselling offers support and companionship for people mourning a loss. Some people seek these services right after a loved one’s death, while others may wait years or even decades to seek help.
If you are searching for a grief counsellor to help you through this difficult time, Simcoe is here to help. We offer bereavement services for people in Cookstown and surrounding areas. Contact Simcoe to get started.