• A grief counsellor can help you to move through your loss when you feel like you have become stuck in the grieving process.
  • Normal grief follows a series of stages that move from shock to remembrance and onward toward eventual acceptance.
  • Abnormal grief (known as Complex or Pathological Grief) is diagnosed when a person fails to reach the stage of acceptance and finds themselves unable to get on with their life.
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Complex Grief

Grief is an emotional state that is the result of a loss. The loss can be due to the death of a loved one, a pet or a job, or something else we deem important. Everyone experiences loss at some point in their life, and how they work through the stages of grief can have a tremendous impact on how well they adjust to life after loss.

Normal Grief

Normal grief follows a period of days, weeks or months and every person has their own rate of processing the loss. For some people, grief may last for several days or weeks and they may be finished with the process, for others the grief can be experienced for a significantly longer period of time. The duration of grief will also depend on the nature of the loss. Grief is different to depression. You can read more about depression here.

Mental health practitioners indicate that there are four broad stages for grief.

We can label the first stage of grief as the “Outcry.” This is when the initial impact of the loss is felt. People in this stage often react physically by crying, sobbing or tearing their clothes. This stage does not often last for a long period of time.

The second stage is referred to as a stage of “Denial and Intrusion.” During this period, normal life goes on and the individual may forget their grief for short periods of time, then the impact of the loss will reappear and the feelings of grief may re-emerge, only to subside again.

The third stage of grief is often referred to as a period of “Working Through.” During this stage, the individual is working toward acceptance of the loss. Memories of who or what has been lost become less intense and the grief becomes a dull ache, rather than an intense stab of surprise and pain.

The fourth and final stage of grief is sometimes referred to as a stage of “Completion.” In this final stage of grief, the individual experiences full acceptance of the loss and moves on with life. If the loss is due to the death of a loved one, then the individual is able to think about them and have memories of them without falling apart or feeling intense pain and loss. (This article is electronically protected – Copyright © Associated Counsellors & Psychologists Sydney PTY LTD)

Most of us do not follow a linear process as we go through these stages of grief, instead we go back and forth between “denial and intrusion” and working our way through the loss, until we are ready to reach “completion.” However, for some people, the process becomes stuck and the intense feelings of grief do not recede over time. Psychologists refer to this as Complex Grief or Pathological Grief.

What is complex or pathological Grief?

Abnormal grief, also known as complex grief or pathological loss, is when the feelings of grief and loss begin to interfere with our ability to return to regular life after a reasonable period of mourning. Although everyone experiences grief in their own fashion, continued feelings of depression, the inability to sleep and eat, and denial of feelings of grief will interfere with a person’s capacity to live life. For individuals who experience this form of grief, counselling with a professional counsellor, therapist or psychologist can be helpful. In extreme forms, complex grief, or pathological loss, can include psychosis, including hallucinations (e.g. in the situation where loss is experienced through death, that the deceased person is talking to you or delusions that you are dying of the same thing).

People experiencing complex grief often suffer from feelings of guilt about possible actions that they could have taken to change the situation and prevent loss. Complex grief can also be accompanied by suicidal thoughts, a preoccupation with feelings of worthlessness and prolonged functional impairment.

One distinguishing aspect of complex grief, and one which might help you to recognise the symptoms, is the reactions of those around a grieving individual. Normal grief elicits sympathy, support and consolation from those around you. In contrast, a person who is experiencing abnormal grief will often start to notice that the response from their family and friends has turned from sympathy to annoyance and irritation. (This article is electronically protected – Copyright © Associated Counsellors & Psychologists Sydney PTY LTD)

Counselling and therapy for complex grief

Prolonged grief is very disruptive to a person’s life and in many ways resembles major depression. The individual may have difficulty sleeping or may be sleeping a great deal; they may avoid situations in which they need to expend a great deal of energy and they may feel lethargic or fatigued much of the time. They may also have difficulty eating.

Working with a professional counsellor, therapist or psychologist can help a person who is coping with abnormal or prolonged bereavement. A counsellor will help you understand why you are feeling so badly about the loss of your loved one or the situation at hand. In many instances, a counsellor, psychologist or therapist will help you work your way through the stages of grief, listening to your memories of your loved one and encouraging you to find a balance for continuing everyday normal activities.

In some instances, a professional counsellor or psychologist may recommend that you visit a psychiatrist for medication. In some circumstances, antidepressants will be prescribed for grief-induced depression where Complex Grief is present. Whilst medication alone is rarely effective in treating grief or depression, it can help with cognitive impairment and improves the ability to think clearly. Once this is established, it can become easier to integrate the concepts and ideas that counselling provides. (This article is electronically protected – Copyright © Associated Counsellors & Psychologists Sydney PTY LTD)

Seeking help for complex and prolonged grief

If you or someone you care about is experiencing abnormal or prolonged grief after a major loss, you or they may benefit from talking with a professional, qualified counsellor, therapist or psychologist. If you would like more information or would like to schedule an appointment, please contact Associated Counselors & Psychologists Sydney.

If you would like further information you may also like to read a story of someone who overcame their loss with grief counselling.

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