family struggling with grief

4 Ways Grief Can Be Treated by Mental Health Professionals


Sober Recovery Expert Author

family struggling with grief

Since the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) removed the “bereavement exclusion” from its previous version, which advised clinicians not to diagnose major depressive disorder (MDD) in patients who recently experienced the loss of a loved one, professionals and patients with interest in the topic have begun widespread discussion of issues surrounding grief and grief-related disorder treatment.

What is Grief?

Grief is a rather broad term. Clinically speaking, however, patients with grief-related issues that cause prolonged or excessive grief symptoms to the point of impairing one’s life for more than one year, as well as patients who exhibit grief that is disproportionate to the loss experienced, technically fit the criteria for a diagnosis of complicated or traumatic grief.

Prolonged and excessive grief can impair someone's life and lead to maladaptive behaviors.

Within the updated DSM-5, not only does this definition of grief now cover bereavement for losses found in death but also allows for treatment programs to address other forms of grief from various life events such as trauma during recovery, romantic attachment loss, a geographic move, job loss or any other major life incidents.

If you or your loved one is experiencing any form of grief, here are four ways a mental health professional can help.

1. Treat the Symptoms Caused by Underlying Grief

Despite practical and anecdotal evidence indicating otherwise, the medical community stayed away from establishing grief as a specific psychological disorder for several reasons. Following several decades of research, however, direct linkages were made between loss-events and abnormal grief, which in turn caused ailments that ranged from psychological to physiological to physical.

In the course of grief treatment by mental health professionals, the patient will initially receive treatment for the more acute and distressing symptoms of their grief, which likely include anxiety and hyper-vigilance, depression, troubled sleep patterns, stimulus avoidance, anger and any other known physical and medical ailments that may be prolonging or exacerbated by abnormal grief patterns.

2. Help You Better Understand Grief in General

Before delving into your specific case of loss and grief, it is oftentimes beneficial to consult with mental health resources to determine the broad definitions, aspects, and manifestations of grief in the general population. Unfortunately, grief isn’t easy to diagnose as its expressions are typically context-specific and vary with every individual.

Ultimately, understanding grief from a general, objective standpoint primes the patient to better understand and cope with his or her more intimate and personal grief situation in an informed and more in-depth manner alongside mental health grief counselors.

3. Deal with Your Specific Traumatic Loss Experiences

After establishing control over grief-related symptoms and gaining insight into the process of coping with a traumatic loss, the patient and mental health provider can now both address the specific grief experienced by the patient.

However, it is important to remember that these loss experiences vary widely in severity, duration, event type, and extent of impairment inflicted on the patient’s life. Therefore, the treatment protocol for grief cases is contingent upon the combination of the individual’s unique loss experience along with any existing co-morbid conditions that may be contributing to the patient’s abnormal grief expression. Eventually, the grief treatment becomes about helping the patient identify distorted thought processes and behaviors related to a loss as well as consider his/her role in choosing to continue or end the grief process.

4. Prevent Future Symptoms in Other Areas

Another change found in DSM-5 is the formal clinical suggestion to treat grief-related symptoms immediately, in lieu of waiting for a period in which depression or some other form of the symptoms of abnormal, complicated, or prolonged grieving emerge.

In this sense, patients experiencing a traumatic event should benefit from seeking a less intensive level of care immediately after experiencing a traumatic event. This may shorten and greatly ease the coping processes which, if left over time, may bring about grief symptoms.

Likewise, early entry into lower levels of care provides an easy pathway to more intensive levels of grief treatment care, if the patient feels he or she requires it after a period of time. Ultimately, promoting a positive recovery from grief and loss by seeking out help in a professional setting early ensures that the patient does not fall into a negative, maladaptive pattern in the long term.

If you or someone you know is seeking help for abnormal or prolonged grief, please visit our directory of grief treatment centers or call 800-891-8171 to speak with a specialist.

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