A quick Google search might indicate that grief counseling is not very effective. This well publicized idea, though, is incomplete and harmful.
The caution against grief counseling is a benevolent one. It is based in the well-established finding that many people don’t need professional help to effectively work through their grief. However, this warning stigmatizes the minority (which, mind you, is still a large number of people!) who do in fact need help. Let me explain:
- 10-20% of people who experience a death loss develop what’s called complicated grief. All of the same research that cautions against grief counseling explicitly recommends grief counseling for people with complicated grief. I would go one step further and recommend grief counseling to a person at risk for complicated grief. You can read more about complicated grief here.
- Most studies actively recruit their participants. This method distorts findings because research includes many people who never would have sought grief counseling on their own. This contrasts with my experience: nearly every client I work with has sought me out. It turns out this is a key difference! A less well publicized review found that grief counseling is effective for people who self-select to receive treatment (Effectiveness of Grief Therapy: A Meta-Analaysis, Allumbaugh & Hoyt, 1999). So if you’re considering grief counseling, your mere interest will improve its ability to help you.
I could say much more about research on the effectiveness of grief counseling, but to be brief I will stop here. Grief is ultimately an individual process, and a difficult one (like most psychological phenomena) to understand. If you’d like to talk through whether grief counseling would help you, give me a call at 720-515-9427.