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When Should A Widow See A Grief Professional?

widows budgeting

The loss of a loved one – especially a spouse – is a dramatic event.  Grieving is the process to take us from such heavy loss to gradual recovery and eventually a sense of hope.  A widow may have family members and/or friends to console her during the grieving process.  One may be particularly gifted in this area by listening in the right manner and providing just the right support and language to help the widow grieve in a natural manner.  In some situations, however, a widow may be advantaged by supplementing what friends or family can provide with a professional grief counselor.

Before we delve into determining when it is good to see a grief counselor, we want to provide a few thoughts on the grief process itself. While countless texts and articles touch on the phases of grief, a consistent message is that it takes time to say good-bye to lost loved ones. It can range anywhere from several weeks to several months and beyond.

Second, the grieving process is often said to be natural. While we often think of grief as intense anguish and sadness – which it certainly can be – it is a healing process. It is a process to heal the mind and allows the bereaved to reestablish continuity and hope going forward.

Phases of Grief

The phases of grief are defined in different ways. In general, there are said to be three phases of grief. The initial phase is the shock, numbness, and disbelief phase. The bereaved may go in and out of these feelings, and this can last for several months. The second phase is experiencing the pain. While the flood of emotions may have been held in check during the initial phase, the bereaved in this phase may seem disoriented and have physical discomfort, mood swings, hopelessness, and even guilt. Behaviors may change and routine habits may be difficult. This is where a family member or close friend can be a great help with practical chores. It is important to remember that as the bereaved, or as the consoler, this process is natural and all of these emotions serve a purpose in healing and finding hope again.  

The final phase is acceptance. This doesn’t mean that sorrow won’t be felt again or that the bereaved will even be the same self. However, there will be a time in which it is clear that the healing is near complete and that energy and the vitality of life is renewed with a fresh and perhaps slightly different focus and perspective.

Support Alternatives

While the bereaved often go through the process naturally on their own and with their own personal support group or books and online resources, there may be times when the bereaved could benefit or even desire additional support in a more structured or professional environment. The benefits may include obtaining more growth during the grief process, learning more about oneself, and perhaps accelerating the healing.  With the increased appropriate acceptance that mental health professionals provide our society, there is increased acknowledgement of the critical role that professional support can provide.  

Some alternatives include a professional therapist, a support group, or a grief workshop.  A professional therapist can come in a variety of stripes, including a psychologist, psychiatric physicians or nurses, or social workers. The treatment can range from a few sessions to several months and can be done on an individual basis or a group basis. While the professional typically does not focus solely on grief counseling as part of their practice, it will be important to seek someone that has training and experience in grief counseling.  

Support groups can be a supplement or an alternative to using a professional therapist. This will generally be less expensive than a professional therapist. Online sources, churches, and hospitals may be good sources to find such groups. Hearing from and sharing with others that are at various stages of the grief process can provide practical suggestions while providing a non-judgmental forum to ask questions, voice your thoughts, and listen. You may find kinship and camaraderie that your own personal network just can’t provide.  These support groups may be helpful, but not all may be ideal for the bereaved. We have all gone to various groups where different characters may impact the effectiveness of the support. Thus, we recommend a willingness to try multiple support groups if the first group does not appear to be a good fit.

Attending seminars or workshops may be a good option as well. These are generally shorter-term (generally just a 1-time event), are often easier for the bereaved to attend, and are usually offered by experts in the grieving process.  Such option allows the bereaved to put a toe in the water to getting professional support outside of his or her personal network.

While seeking professional assistance in some form is helpful for many people and should not have any stigma attached, there are situations in which it is more apparent that a recent widowed individual may need professional support. It will be important for the widowed to acknowledge that – or, as is often the case, for the consoler to recognize that – help may especially be warranted under certain circumstances.

Such factors may include a highly dependent relationship on the deceased spouse, a history of mental instability, other serious medical issues, a particularly violent and sudden death, or the lack of a solid personal support network.  Reviewing these factors is not suggesting that those with these factors absolutely need professional support or that those without any of those factors do not need more assistance.

Some experts indicate that professional help should be obtained when certain symptoms persist for a relatively long period of time – perhaps six to eight weeks. Note that many of these symptoms – done in short periods of time – are often part of the normal grieving process.

  • Significant deterioration in hygiene habits.
  • Hyperactivity.
  • Difficulty in making simple decisions.
  • Hallucinations.
  • Depression and withdrawal.
  • Increasing substance abuse.
  • Failure to eat or sleep regularly.

Again, there are many factors to look at in determining if the bereaving widow may need professional support. Regardless of whether these factors are present, a professional can nevertheless generally provide more support, more growth, and potentially accelerated healing than what one’s personal support network could provide, and the bereaving widow should not feel bashful or hesitant in seeking professional support. It is through reaching out and being open to allow others to help during difficult times where we find healing, growth, and a sense of renewal for tomorrow.

Oasis Wealth Planning Advisors is a fee only financial planning firm that provides financial planning and investment advice to widows on a fiduciary basis. Their headquarters are in Nashville, and they service clients in Tennessee, Florida, and throughout the Southeast where regulations allow.