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None of us are so fortunate to pass through life without experiencing grief and loss to some degree. Whether we are grieving following the death of a loved one or suffering due to the loss of a pet, a home, a job or something else close to our hearts, the extent to which we suffer and the way we deal with our loss is at least partially within our control.

Often, you will hear that the only remedy prescribed for grief and loss is ‘time’. While it is true that time helps, there are means of ensuring the time you spend grieving is not unnecessarily long and allows you to come to terms with your loss in a healthy and manageable way.

The Effects of Grief and Loss

Grief and loss can affect people in varying ways, including:

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The above are examples of very natural parts of the grieving process. Although ‘natural’, when any of these responses to grief or loss becomes extreme, it is usually the time to seek outside help and support. Listed below are further examples of more extreme reactions to grief and loss for which seeking additional support is advisable:

  • Sleeplessness
  • Long-term intense emotional disturbance
  • Continued signs of depression or anxiety
  • An inability to cope with the demands of your job and/or daily life
  • Sexual problems
  • Extreme lethargy (i.e. inability to get out of bed)
  • Neglecting yourself and your family (i.e. you stop eating properly, washing or you ignore your family)
  • Emotional turmoil or confusion begins affecting the rest of your life (i.e. you are taking your anger out on others or can’t face going to work or keeping social engagements)

Therapy for Grief and Loss

When dealing with grief or loss, it is very easy to feel that there is nothing you can do to improve your situation. However, there are many ways in which your suffering and symptoms may be alleviated and allowed to run their course more quickly, healthily and appropriately than when going it alone.

Psychotherapy and/or Medication

As noted above, the symptoms experienced by those suffering grief or loss are encompassed in other mental issues, such as anxiety and depression. In such cases, counseling and/or medical assistance may be of benefit in both coping with the symptoms and recovering from them. While psychotherapy and medication may seem an extreme measure, both can help. They may reduce unhelpful thought processes or cognitive patterns and assist you in dealing with the emotional trauma that may be intensifying or prolonging your grief. Both treatments can also, of course, be effective in treating coinciding or effects of grief such as anxiety or depression.

Psychotherapy treatments include psychodynamic therapy, family therapy, and cognitive behavioral therapy. Medications include Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) and Serotonin and Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs).

Psychodynamic Therapy

Psychodynamic therapy can help address the psychological and emotional wounds that the bereaved is unable to address, confront or manage directly and alone. The goal of this therapy is to assist the person in coping and dealing with their loss by gradually working through the emotional and psychological trauma with the aid of a therapist.

Family Therapy

Most counseling focuses on an individual’s response to grief. However, the loss of a loved one can throw an entire family system out of control.  Different family members will react differently, but each must come to terms with the loss. The effect of the loss can be analyzed by viewing other losses in the family system over time and looking forward to how this loss could affect future generations. Family therapy can help individuals and their families organize in a healthy way around loss.

Cognitive Behavior Therapy

In Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), the therapist works with the client to change their thinking patterns and behaviors in response to thoughts. Once thought patterns are identified, the client and therapist work collaboratively to change these associations and help the client feel better and behave differently in response to stress, trauma and overwhelming emotions.


SSRIs are the most commonly prescribed class of antidepressants. They can also be effective in the treatment of grief and loss. They work to treat an imbalance of serotonin, which may contribute to depression. By decreasing the reuptake of serotonin to the brain, more serotonin remains available. Common SSRIs prescribed by physicians and psychiatrists include Zoloft, Prozac, Lexapro, and Paxil. Before agreeing to take medication, you should weigh the potential benefits against potential side effects.

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SNRIs work by improving the levels of serotonin and norepinephrine in your brain. Experts believe these changes can reduce the symptoms of depression. Similar to SSRIs, SNRIs block the reuptake of serotonin and norepinephrine. These medications are also used to treat anxiety.

Common SNRIs are Cymbalta, Effexor, and Pristiq. Before agreeing to take medication, you should weigh the potential benefits against potential side effects


Emotional stress or strain can make you feel very tired. Yet, a healthy amount of sleep is fundamental to your recovery and ability to address the emotional and psychological trauma of loss. If you are having excessive trouble sleeping, you should see your doctor and consider a course of medication to help you restore a healthy sleeping pattern.

Maintaining Your Routine

Doing the simple things – grocery shopping, walking the dog, keeping up social engagements – can be a great help in transitioning gradually out of the grieving process.

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Speaking about your loss to a sympathetic and caring listener is one of the most therapeutic, cathartic and effective ways of coping and improving your mood during the grieving process. In doing so, you can unburden yourself of many of the feelings listed above (anger, guilt, hopelessness) and also work through your emotional and psychological stress simply by ‘giving air’ to your thoughts and feelings.

Avoiding Emotional Suppressors

In the event of grief or loss, many choose to ‘numb’ the pain and other effects with emotional suppressors such as alcohol, sex or drugs. While these may offer short-term relief from the symptoms, they can lead to other problems and do not help in the recovery process in the long term. When you use these coping mechanism long term, you can develop serious addictions.

Acceptance of Grief and Loss

Allowing yourself to feel sad and accepting your sadness as a natural, integral part of the recovery process is fundamental to recovering from bereavement or loss in a healthy and manageable way. Many who suffer grief or loss are apt to put on a ‘brave face’, deny their feelings and consequently prolong their grieving period by not working through their mental and emotional issues.  When acceptance is delayed and feelings remain unprocessed, emotional disturbance will often reappear at a later date.

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