Finding professional help for grief

3 min read

How to choose a grief therapist or counselor

  • Make sure you are looking because you want help coping, not because others think you should be ”back to normal.” Grieving is normal.

  • Therapy can be expensive, and is not always covered by insurance. Try to find a provider who will work with you to find an affordable option.

  • Recommendations from friends and family are a good place to start, or use a website like Alma or Zocdoc.

  • Read online bios carefully to find a thoughtful therapist who doesn’t want to fix your grief.

  • If the provider you find isn’t taking new clients, ask for a list of colleagues who may be.

Everyone experiences grief differently, and what you go through day by day can be as unpredictable as it is difficult. This is a healing process, but it is one that is usually emotionally draining and may take longer than you feel prepared for.

Many people find it very challenging to return to life’s daily activities and responsibilities for a while after losing a loved one, and a feeling of normalcy may not be attainable anytime soon. You may feel as if you are in a fog, have trouble concentrating, experience loss of appetite or overeating, insomnia or hypersomnia (sleeping an excessive amount), excessive drinking or drug use, or just a general lack of motivation to participate in the world.

It is very normal to experience any combination of these symptoms, and it absolutely does not mean that something is “wrong.” This is all part of grief, and it is a deeply human reaction. However, although your mind may be occupied by thoughts and memories of your loved one, you absolutely deserve care, too. It might feel difficult to devote attention, time, and kindness to yourself—you may even feel like it is selfish to do so. Try to remember that you are going through an extraordinarily difficult experience, and you deserve all the support you can get.

Again, it is absolutely normal to be deeply emotionally affected by your loss. You are not doing anything wrong, you do not need fixing, and nobody can or should tell you to go to a mental health professional. However, if you are feeling like your symptoms of grief are having a prolonged effect on you being able to complete daily activities, such as going to work or school, maintaining contact with friends, or simply getting out of bed in the morning, then you may find it beneficial to seek out mental health help. Even if you have family and friends to lean on in this time, a professional therapist or grief counselor will be able to provide you with the tools, coping mechanisms, and neutral safe space that your friends and family might not. 

What it costs

Seeing a therapist can sometimes be very expensive, especially when it is not covered by your insurance, but don’t let this discourage you. There are generally options available at a price you can afford; it’s just a matter of finding one that is right for you. Many therapists, social workers, and grief counselors take a wide range of insurance plans so that they can offer support to those struggling to cope. Most also offer a sliding-scale price range, and will be willing to work with you on agreeing to an affordable price based on your income.

If you have a friend or relative who has a therapist or counselor they can recommend, that is often the best place to start, especially if they went to them for grief themselves. Even if they are not taking new patients, don’t take your insurance, or are out of your price range, they will often be able to recommend a colleague who will fit your needs.

Finding a provider

If you cannot get a recommendation, a good place to look is online. Websites that connect people with therapists, like Alma, are an excellent source, as are more general medical provider search sites like Zocdoc, which let you search by kind of specialty you need. These sites are available in all states; you can enter in your insurance and they will show you specialists available in your area that accept that plan. There is often even an option to search for “Bereavement / Grief Counseling.”

Take some time to look through the providers that come up. If you find someone who seems promising, look at their online presence outside of the site where you found them. Most mental health providers will have their own professional websites, or be members of professional organizations that will list them and their specialties.

Focusing on grief

When deciding on a provider to check out, pay attention to the language they use around grief and bereavement. You will want to find a therapist or counselor who understands grief as a normal and necessary process of healing, rather than as something that needs to be overcome or a problem that needs to be fixed. Look for those whose approach seems thoughtful and sensitive, rather than preaching positivity or resilience in the face of hard experiences.

Once you find someone who you think might be a good fit, contact them to ask if you can schedule a free consultation. Providers do get booked up quickly, and may not have any availability, but it is always worth it to ask for a list of their colleagues who are experienced in grief counseling. Often this is the best way to get in contact with a therapist who has less of an online presence, and thus might have more availability. 

The important thing to remember is that you deserve care, and it is always OK to take the time and space you need to find the right care for you. In your grief and your desire to spend as much of your emotional energy remembering your loved one as possible, you may feel resistant to making these first steps towards finding emotional health support. But it is worth it to push through and find the care you need, and many find it to be a rich and rewarding experience that will helps them to cope with the overwhelming and consuming process of grieving ●