Often, bereaved parents wonder if they should seek out professional counseling resources. Below are some considerations to help you make that decision, as well as some insight into what therapy might involve.
Benefits of Counseling
From our experience, a therapist can be very beneficial. While you may be able to talk to other bereaved parents, family, or friends about your loss, a professional has the tools and skills to help you process your grief in healthy ways. Therapists are able to talk you through aspects of your loss that you may not have come to terms with yet, or that may have taken you several years to come to terms with on your own. Unfortunately, there is often a negative connotation on going to therapy, but in reality, therapy is one more tool in your grief toolbox to help you through the grieving process.
In particular, it can be hard to distinguish between normal grief and depression after losing a child and depression that warrants seeking professional help. If you consult a therapist or other mental health professional, they will be able to help you make that determination.
Finding a Therapist
Choosing a therapist or counselor can seem daunting, but it is worthwhile to find someone you feel comfortable with. It may not be the first person you talk to and it’s okay to change therapists or shop around until you find a good fit for you.
Some things you will want to consider are:
- Is the conversation easy or does it seem forced? Figuring this out may take a few visits. Do you feel like the counselor is really listening to you?
- Are you comfortable in the environment?
- What is the process and ultimate goal for your sessions?
- How far is the office from your home? Do they offer telehealth visits?
Some questions you may want to ask a potential therapist are:
- Whether they accept your health insurance and what the payments will be. If they do not accept your insurance, find out what their rates are and whether they offer payment plans.
- How long they have been practicing.
- What they are licensed in and whether they have training in a particular area.
- Whether they have experience in dealing with clients who have lost a child or grandchild, and if so, the age range of the children.
- Whether they have had clients working through similar issues as you. Examples include marriage difficulty after child loss, pregnancy after loss, self-blame, a sudden loss, etc.
- What types of therapy they use in counseling sessions.
- Whether they lead the sessions or follow your lead.
- Whether they offer therapy for just individuals, couples, or any other family members, including children.
Types of Therapists
There are several different types of therapists and the titles behind their names can sometimes be confusing, so we want to help break it down for you. Each of these therapists, except the pastoral and peer therapists, have either a Master’s degree, PhD,or medical degree as well as hundreds of hours of clinical experience. There is no one degree that makes one therapist better than another.
Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC)
A counselor with a master’s degree in psychology, counseling or a related field. They are trained to diagnose and provide individual and group counseling.
Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC)
A counselor with a master’s degree and several years of supervised clinical work experience. They are trained to diagnose and provide individual and group counseling.
Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT)
A counselor with a master’s degree, with special education and training in marital and family therapy. They are trained to diagnose and provide individual and group counseling.
Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)
A counselor with a master’s degree in social work from an accredited graduate program. They are trained to make diagnoses, provide individual and group counseling, and provide case management and advocacy; usually found in the hospital setting.
Psychologist (Psych or Dr.)
A psychologist with a doctoral degree in psychology from an accredited/designated program in psychology. Psychologists are trained to make diagnoses and provide individual and group therapy.
Psychiatrist (M.D. or Dr.)
A medical doctor with special training in the diagnosis and treatment of mental and emotional illnesses. A psychiatrist can prescribe medication, but they often do not counsel patients.
Clergy with training in clinical pastoral education. They are trained to diagnose and provide individual and group counseling.
A counselor with lived experience with mental health or substance use conditions. Assists clients with recovery by recognizing and developing strengths, and setting goals. Many peer support programs require several hours of training. Please see Just Enduring’s Parent Like You program for further information on this type of counseling.
Types of Grief Therapy
This type of therapy utilizes different types of animals to help individuals with emotional and psychological healing. This is often used for children and you may have heard of it being used for adults with PTSD or individuals with Autism. Think therapy dog or horse.
This type of therapy utilizes different types of creative supplies to help individuals with emotional and psychological healing. This may include coloring, painting, using clay, or other arts and crafts.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
This type of therapy allows individuals to explore the relationships between their patterns of thinking, feelings, and specific behaviors. Think of this as a sort of cause and effect process- what you are thinking leads you to feel a certain way, which in turn causes you to act a certain way. This is often used to treat depression and symptoms that are similar to grief.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EDMR)
This type of therapy assists with healing from distressing images and body sensations associated with PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder). This is often used for veterans or civilians dealing with a particular traumatic experience or set of experiences. The therapist will use eye movements to help desensitize and reprocess the trauma experience. The goal with this type of therapy is to make it harder to retrieve traumatic images and feelings, storing them in a less accessible place of the brain.
This type of therapy helps reframe a person’s life story and purpose by exploring how a challenging experience may be helpful rather than hurtful. The focus is on honoring what your life was before your loss, but envisioning and accepting what your life will now look like.
This type of therapy allows a child to communicate through play instead of asking them to talk about their feelings directly. The goal of this therapy is to assist the child in coping, processing, and expressing feelings that result from difficult life situations. This may include toys, art supplies, sand trays, dolls and play houses, theater, and other games.
This type of therapy uses symbolic imagery to allow individuals to connect something physical with their unconscious feelings in order to process grief and traumatic experiences. This involves creating scenes in a tray of sand with miniature trinkets, symbols and figurines. Often, the therapist will give you a bin of objects and ask you to choose a few of them at the beginning of the session.
Somatic Experiencing (SE)
This type of therapy is similar to EDMR in that it is also used to help individuals with PTSD. The therapist will help the individual release physical tension in the body that causes traumatic feelings and images to remain in your mind. The theory of this type of therapy is that negative energy has been locked into your body and disrupts the nervous system and that releasing the physical tension will help release some of the trauma.
Therapy for Children
Living siblings of the child who passed away may also benefit from therapy, though their therapy sessions may look different from the typical adult therapy where a person talks about their feelings and emotions. A child’s therapy sessions may involve animal, art, or play therapy, as referenced above. It is important to find a therapist who is knowledgeable in therapy for children.
Therapy at Home
There are some things a therapist may recommend you do at home for self-healing. These may include:
- Keeping a journal of your thoughts, feelings, triggers, and memories of your child.
- Memory making, using photos, toys, or other belongings of your child’s. Some examples are shadow boxes, photo albums or scrapbooks, or an area in the house dedicated to your child’s memory.
- Keeping your mind busy if you become overwhelmed with grief or a trigger. This can include playing games on your phone, sports or other activities, or tackling some of the items on your to-do list.
- Writing letters. These can be letters to your child or to others who you may be angry with. These letters are meant for your healing and you should talk to your therapist before deciding to send a letter to another person.
- Breathing exercises, mindfulness, or meditation.
- Talking about your child with others.
- Talking with your spouse about your feelings and recognizing that each other’s style of grieving is unique.