You may have heard the term complicated grief and wondered if this applies to you or any loss you’ve experienced. If you’ve spent years grieving the loss of someone or something and still feel you ‘haven’t gotten over it,’ you could be experiencing complicated grief. That doesn’t mean it has to be a complicated process, however.
Grief is Such a Common Thing in Life
Anyone who has ever lived and cared about someone else in their life has been touched by grief. It doesn’t matter how young or old you are, everybody has to deal with grief. It’s just how each person experiences it and the signs of grief they experience that vary. Some people get mad, others stay sad, others may blame themselves for the loss. One of the important things to know is there is no one way that grief ‘should’ look, just about every possible way of experiencing grief has already happened to everyone on the earth at one time or another.
It’s Really Simple
Grief is basically about you being upset about someone or something dying or going out of your life. That’s it! There’s no complicated psychological principles at play except for the loss of that thing in your life. It may hurt like hell, but that’s what it’s all about. For most people, however, there may be other losses that preceded the one they’re experiencing that didn’t get worked through. That’s where it can get complicated. It can also get complicated when loss after loss gets piled on so a person doesn’t know where to start in working through a loss. This is when we start to use the term complicated grief to describe the experience.
As I just mentioned, if you have trouble working through a loss by going through all the stages, such as denial, anger, guilt, depression, etc., then things can get really sticky. Just as difficult are experiences of serial losses that happen in a short amount of time. If you have ever experienced a natural disaster, right before or after a large financial loss, or a divorce, or the death of a relative all within a short amount of time, this is when it is hard to tell where to start in grieving a loss. The important thing is to get support and help so that it doesn’t turn into depression...or worse.
What Am I Supposed to Do?
The main thing to do is to be aware of your feelings, whatever they are. So many people get caught up in trying to just function and ‘get on with their life’ that they forget about what they’ve lost. In and of itself that can be a good thing, but too many people don’t give enough time and attention to the grieving process, and it can be a hard taskmaster. It’s kind of like the old Fram car filter commercials where the sales pitch was ‘Pay me now or pay me later.’ If you don’t give grief the time and attention it is due, it will probably come back to haunt you not unlike Dicken’s ghosts in the story A Christmas Carol.
How Grief Counseling Can Help
There are numerous ways that grief therapy can help you work through your grief. The main way is having someone who is educated about the stages of grief and loss and can listen to you and what you’re feeling to help you process your feelings. Beyond this, there are lots of good therapy methods that can help in getting people out of the stuck places that complicated grief can leave them. From something as old and reliable as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to something as new and innovative as Image Transformation Therapy (ImTT), grief counseling can be as freeing a process as anything out there. And if there’s something that people who are grieving need, it is to be free of all the unpleasant emotions that keep them from remembering the past in a way that feels good and is empowering.
What I Do For Complicated Grief
I use all the methods I mentioned above to help people work through their grief and loss. I also have certification in EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), which can help people who have trauma work through that as well. I have helped well over a hundred people in working through grief issues in my 10 year career as a social worker, and I can help you as well. I encourage you to give me a call at 512-374-0100, or send me a message in the form below and with a free 15-minute phone consult I can give you an idea if working with would be helpful for you. You’ve got nothing to lose...except the grief!
About the author: Scott Kampschaefer, LCSW is a private practice therapist in Austin, Texas. He has an extensive background in working with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and grief issues at a clinic for older adults with these disorders in Austin. He now works with adults and adolescents of all ages in private practice.