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*The examples provided below are composite cases, synthesizing disguised information and not any patient in particular*

Key Takeaways 

  1. Losses come in many forms and there is no correct way to grieve.
  2. A therapist can help you manage grief by identifying your feelings, developing coping skills, and giving you a comfortable space to process your experiences.
  3. If we remain open and patient through the process, our losses can lead us to new opportunities and help us to adjust to a new “normal.” Loss can also be a source of growth – new skills, new relationships, and new opportunities.

When thinking of grief and loss, our minds often turn to the death of loved ones. While those experiences are incredibly painful, loss can come in many different forms. For instance, divorce or adjusting to an empty nest can be significant losses in our lives. Other times, we struggle with the loss of a vision or goal, such as not having children or being rejected from a dream job. No matter how big or small the loss, we can benefit from receiving support to work through our grief.

Consider Caleb, a patient who recently graduated college. While everyone else seemed to be ecstatic and preparing for their future, Caleb expressed that something felt off. Instead of joy, he was feeling lonely and fearful about transitioning to post-college life. 

“My life is just getting started. Why would I feel this way?” he questioned. 

For Caleb, he was experiencing many changes and losses at once. Most of his life had been devoted to school. College provided him with comfort and structure, whereas he was now tackling the responsibilities and expectations of adulthood. Instead of making his friends and social life a priority, he was working a full-time job and living at home. 

“It feels like I’m losing parts of myself. Everything is different,” he told me. 

While Caleb wanted to remain hopeful, he was left feeling disappointed that his fantasies of post-grad life and his current reality weren’t matching up. He couldn’t deny that his years in school were transformative and built significant aspects of his identity along the way. Caleb began to wonder how he could move forward, knowing that he would never be that version of himself again. 

How can therapy help with grief and loss? 

Learning to process and cope with loss are challenging tasks that you don’t have to take on alone. A therapist can assist you in learning to identify your feelings and give you space to navigate the grieving process. Importantly, there are no right or wrong ways to grieve. Showing yourself patience and understanding through your hardships is key to fostering personal growth. 

In his therapy sessions, Caleb gained a greater understanding of how grief was manifesting in his daily life. He was able to view treatment as a gradual process, eventually learning to address his feelings head on. Caleb experienced setbacks along the way but was able to begin embracing his new “normal.” Facing the new challenges head on also allowed him to learn new skills, develop new relationships, and foster a sense of growth. This would not have been possible without acknowledging and grieving the loss of what he previously had. 

Over time, coming to terms with our losses can open the door to new opportunities. The past can’t always be healed but working through our losses is a way to validate our emotional experiences, while gaining perspective on what moving forward looks like. While it may be a long and complicated road ahead, addressing grief and loss paves the way to a more satisfying life.  

Therapist Jordan Reynolds

Author: Jordan Reynolds, MSW, LLMSW

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