Most people experience grief at some point in their lives. Grieving is a highly personal process with no “right” way to go through the process. This can make it difficult to determine whether a person is grieving normally or not. Some people find comfort in being with friends and family while others prefer to be alone with their feelings.
Grieving can also be difficult to understand because it encompasses more than just sadness. People often go through other emotions like guilt, anger, yearning and regret. Emotions can range from mild to severe and last for several weeks or more. However, if the grief has not decreased several months after losing a loved one, it may be considered complicated grief, or persistent complex bereavement disorder.
At La Ventana, we have a treatment program that focuses solely on women suffering from grief after losing a loved one. It’s important for these individuals to seek treatment when their grieving continues to be intense and persistent. There are ways to cope with grief in a healthy, constructive manner. Additionally, our treatment program can give the correct diagnosis, as many people who suffer with complicated grief also have major depression.
Grief: A Personal Response to Loss
Grief is the normal response to losing a loved one. Grief can be felt after a physical loss (e.g., a death) or a social loss (e.g., divorce, job loss). Each loss takes something away from the person, which is why they go through the grief process.
The symptoms of grief can be physical, social and emotional. For example, a person may have trouble sleeping or eating. They may have feelings of guilt, anger, sadness and despair. The person may also worry about how they are going to take care of their family or return to work. All of the physical and emotional energy that goes into grieving leaves a person extremely tired.
There is no one way to deal with the loss of a loved one. These tend to be traumatic experiences in our lives, and our response depends on our relationship with the person and our unique personality. Coping skills are also unique to each individual and influenced by a person’s cultural and religious background, coping skills, mental history and support system.
5 Phases of Grief: The Kubler-Ross Model
Even though grieving is a natural process, there are still global trends in how people cope with loss. By recognizing when the grieving process has gone too far, you can help yourself or a loved one get the support they need through grief counseling or grief therapy.
Below are the five stages of grief as developed by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. She noted that everyone experiences at least two of these stages after a loss, and that the stages can be reached over many years.
- Denial. Denial is a temporary response to the shock of a loss. It’s actually protective and allows people to process what happened while keeping their emotions in check.
- Anger. As the denial starts to wear off, reality emerges. People often feel angry – angry at their loved one for leaving. Angry at the doctors for not having a solution. Sometimes, they become angry at themselves for being angry.
- Bargaining. When a person feels hopeless, they might bargain with a higher power. “If only we had gotten a second opinion.” “If only I could have been there more.” People want to believe there was something they could have done.
- Depression. Losing a loved one brings about two types of depression. The first has to do with practical issues like paying for a funeral or maintaining the family home. The second is more private and involves grieving.
- Acceptance. Not everyone reaches this stage. For those that do, the good days outnumber the bad. The person realizes that even though something bad happened, they will be OK.
Symptoms of Complicated Grief
When does normal grief cross over into complicated grief? Mental health professionals diagnose complicated grief when the grieving continues to be intense and debilitating for 12 months or longer. At this time, it’s clear that the person needs to be assessed and checked for major depression as well.
Here are some ways to tell the difference between normal grief and complicated grief.
- Feelings of grief won’t improve
- Normal life cannot be resumed
- Unable to have other relationships
- Trouble adjusting to a new reality
- Inability to think back to positive memories
- Intense longing for the deceased
Treatment for Grief and Loss
Persistent complex bereavement disorder can be physically, emotionally and socially debilitating, but a person does not have to suffer alone. Treatment is available and comes in many forms depending on the person’s needs.
At La Ventana, our grief and loss treatment program focuses on women who are having trouble coping and moving on with their new reality without their loved one. Treatment is delivered in a safe, supportive setting with licensed physicians, nurses, psychologists and therapists.
The following treatment modalities work best for individuals who are struggling to grieve in a healthy manner:
- Psychotherapy. Complicated grief therapy is a type of psychotherapy. It’s effective and can be done in an individual or group format. This treatment can also be delivered alongside psychotherapy for other mental health conditions like depression or PTSD.During grief therapy, clients may:
- Learn about complicated grief
- Explore grief reactions, grief symptoms and adjusting to a new reality
- Have imagined conversations with their deceased loved one
- Improve coping skills
- Reduce feelings of blame and guilt
- Medications. People with complicated grief sometimes respond well to medications, especially if they have underlying depression. However, our physicians are careful to prescribe medications for grief because we don’t want our clients to mask their symptoms. It’s important to go through the grief process.
Treatment for grief and loss is offered at our treatment facility. With our convenient outpatient programs, you can travel from treatment to work and home each day. We feel this is important as it allows you to stay connected to your support network. To learn more about our grief and loss program, contact La Ventana today.