Do You Need Professional Help?
The death of a loved one can cause us to feel sad, angry, overwhelmed, guilty, and many other feelings. So it’s understandable that it can be confusing to know what is normal grief, and when it would be helpful to seek professional help.
I’ll be honest – this is a tricky, very grey area. On one hand, it is normal for what I call your “acute grief” to last a while – a year or more. So just because you feel sad when you think about your loved one doesn’t necessary mean that must seek therapy, or just because it’s been a few months and you cry sometimes doesn’t mean that you need professional help. It may be useful to watch my videos on how long grief may last and what to expect regarding the ups and downs of grief – because, unfortunately society often tries to rush grief. Your grief will likely last a while and that’s normal. But there are also situations when a mental health professional can be very helpful. I’ve divided my recommendations into two general categories: situations when you MIGHT decide to seek professional help; and situations where you really SHOULD seek professional help.
But let me start with this. If you think you would benefit from counseling or if you simply want to go see a therapist – that’s all the reason you need to give it a try. A therapist or counselor will never tell you that you didn’t need to come in. If you think that it might be helpful, that’s all the reason you need.
So here are some situations or signs that you MIGHT need to seek professional help. One situation is that over the course of several months, your grief has gotten worse. Sometimes this can simply be a natural part of the grief process, but it can also be a sign that you could use some help. Other signs that you may need professional help would be if your grief includes a lot of anger or guilt – and especially if your anger or guilt don’t seem to be decreasing. Feelings of anger or guilt are often normal grief reactions, but if they continue to be intense, it may cause you to feel stuck in your grief. One more sign that you should consider seeking professional help is if it has been several months or longer and you still have a strong reaction every time you experience a reminder of your love done. For example if several months have passed and you have daily or very frequent grief bursts or if your loved one’s name or memory almost always creates a strong reaction.
Now I’m going to shift to some signs or situations when you should almost DEFINITELY seek professional help. First, if you have previously sought help for another psychological concern – for example, depression or anxiety, and you see that your grief is causing those concerns to resurface. For example, if your grief appears to be connected to anxiety symptoms that are getting worse or even panic attacks, that’s a situation where you should definitely be seeking professional help. Another situation when professional help is necessary is if a few months after your loss you have difficulty taking care of yourself and your living environment, if you’re unable to work or continue most of your daily tasks, and you’re having difficult time maintaining relationships with others. These can be signs that you’re experiencing depression in addition to your grief, and it is best to work with a mental health professional to determine what’s going on. If your use of alcohol or legal or illegal drugs is hurting you and your ability to process your grief, then that is another situation where you should seek help. And finally, if you are having thoughts that life is not worth living, or that you just want to die so your pain can end, or other thoughts related to hurting yourself - you’ve absolutely got to reach out for help. In fact, if you’re thinking about hurting yourself, I’d like you pause the video in a few seconds and I’m going to put a national suicide hotline number for the United States on the screen. Please, please call that hotline if you’re considering hurting yourself.
Like I mentioned earlier, this is a situation where there are some grey areas, and these should be viewed as general guidelines, not individual advice. But I suspect there might be many of you who feel like you would like additional support and information, but you’re not quite sure if therapy is right for you. On my website, GriefPlan.com, I offer online grief programs that provide you with information, support, and practical strategies that help you on your grief journey. You can access the information and support from the comfort of your home at any time that works for you. What I’ve done is taken many of the same topics and practical strategies that I’ve used in grief counseling and packaged it as a series of helpful videos and downloads. The GriefPlan programs are designed to help with the 3 main challenges that most grieving people have including How to heal, how to remember, and how to rebuild after loss. If you would like to learn more about my program and how it can help you, then click the link on the screen or in the description of this video OR simply go to GriefPlan.com.