Healing from Complicated Grief

Medically reviewed by: Rachel Hughitt, MS
Tuesday, August 29 2023

If you've ever experienced the loss of a loved one, you know how difficult it can be to cope with the wide range of emotions that come with grief. And while in many cases grieving is a normal and natural reaction to loss, for some people those thoughts and feelings become overwhelming or prolonged — sometimes for years. Complicated (or prolonged) grief is defined as persistent feelings of intense grief that don't get better with time. In this article, we’ll help you understand what causes this type of profound emotional distress and how a therapist can help you heal from the loss of a loved one.

SonderMind can connect you to a therapist who understands what you’re going through and can give you the tools and support to help you heal. Get started with SonderMind to connect with a therapist and start your healing journey today.

What is complicated grief?

Complicated grief is a type of prolonged and intense grief that goes on for months or even years after the loss of a loved one. It is referred to as prolonged grief disorder. Prolonged grief disorder is the newest disorder to be added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). It is included in the text revision of DSM-5 (DSM-5-TR), which was released in March 2022. The DSM is a publication of the American Psychiatric Association (APA) that defines and classifies mental disorders. 

Many people struggle with complicated grief. In fact, 7 - 10% of individuals struggle with complicated grieving. Yet few are comfortable talking about it openly or know how to manage it. Understanding grief and the grieving process is an important part of healing from a loss. When you understand the feelings you’re experiencing and realize they’re normal, painful emotions can become a little easier to cope with. Read more about the stages of grief.

Signs of complicated grief

Complicated grief may be caused by unresolved issues, trauma, or other factors associated with the death of your loved one. There are a number of symptoms associated with complicated grief. These include:

  • Feeling emotionally numb and unable to have emotional experiences
  • Difficulty with day-to-day activities — that may include work, socializing, or even basic self-care routines
  • Having intrusive thoughts or memories of the deceased
  • Difficulty accepting that the loved one is gone and believing that somehow it's still possible to reunite with them
  • Feeling as if part of yourself has died
  • Avoiding reminders that the person is dead
  • Intense loneliness

How can therapists help with complicated grief?

Therapists, especially those who focus on loss or grief, can help people who are dealing with complicated grief. They can provide support and guidance to help you process your emotions, accept the death of your loved one, and eventually move on with life.

Therapists may also help by providing strategies to manage intrusive thoughts or memories of the deceased, such as mindfulness techniques or cognitive behavioral therapy. Additionally, they can offer coping strategies for managing intense emotions such as anxiety or depression.

They may also help by providing a safe space to express your feelings and explore underlying issues related to the death of your loved one. This can be especially helpful if you are struggling to come to terms with unresolved issues or trauma associated with the loss.

By offering both emotional support and practical strategies, therapists can help you cope with complicated grief and move forward in life.

What is complicated grief therapy (CGT)?

Complicated grief therapy (CGT) is a targeted type of grief therapy designed to treat prolonged or complicated grief. It’s ideal for people whose intense and debilitating feelings of grief aren’t getting better with time.

CGT comprises of seven fundamental procedures, which include: 

  • Providing education about complicated grief and the therapeutic approach
  • Engaging in self-assessment and self-regulation
  • Focusing on setting aspirational goals
  • Rebuilding interpersonal connections 
  • Revisiting and exploring the narrative surrounding the loss
  • Revisiting the world following the loss
  • Addressing memories and nurturing continuing bonds

CGT commonly takes a gradual approach to treating complicated grief, encouraging people to confront and process their painful emotions slowly. Therapists will also work to provide support, validation, and education throughout the healing process. 

SonderMind can help you heal from complicated grief

Grief is a unique experience that affects everyone differently, so it’s important to find a therapist who understands your individual needs and situation. Talking with a counselor or therapist from SonderMind may be one of the best investments you make in your journey through grief. It can help to ease the emotional pain and provide a space for healing from complicated grief, so that you can move forward in life with hope and resilience.

Regardless of when you experienced your loss, it’s never too late to reach out for support. A SonderMind therapist can help you at any point in the grieving process, providing an opportunity to process your thoughts and feelings in a safe, supportive environment. Talking with a therapist doesn’t have to be overwhelming; it can give you the guidance and resources needed to navigate through complicated grief. 

Start your healing journey today by connecting to a SonderMind therapist. We’re here to help you move forward and live your life to the fullest.

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