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Grief Therapy

Desiree Woehrle

What is Grief Therapy?

Grief Therapy is therapeutic work focusing on an individual’s experience of loss and related aspects of their life. The most common example we think of is losing a loved one to death, though bereavement is not the only type of grief that can be helpful to discuss in therapy. The loss of a pet, job, relationship, role, or other constant a person has come to rely on.

Secondary Loss

Secondary loss refers to the things one now needs to grieve as a result of the primary loss or the person who is no longer with them. Secondary losses can include the emotional and financial security provided by the deceased, changes in social circle and an altered sense of self.
Disenfranchised grief is when grieving someone’s death is invalidated or not well understood. This would include the death of a distant loved one, someone you’ve had a difficult history with, or a dynamic that is socially frowned upon for whatever reason. For example, if someone’s spouse dies, the person they had a secret relationship would likely not receive much sympathy from the deceased’s family, or even be invited to the memorialization, especially if they were not aware of the dynamic or if it caused pain for the family. This person still may have lost the most important person in their life, though feel ashamed to process the loss due to feelings of guilt or feeling like it’s not their place.

Disenfranchised Grief

Disenfranchised grief is when grieving someone’s death is invalidated or not well understood. This would include the death of a distant loved one, someone you’ve had a difficult history with, or a dynamic that is socially frowned upon for whatever reason. For example, if someone’s spouse dies, the person they had a secret relationship would likely not receive much sympathy from the deceased’s family, or even be invited to the memorialization, especially if they were not aware of the dynamic or if it caused pain for the family. This person still may have lost the most important person in their life, though feel ashamed to process the loss due to feelings of guilt or feeling like it’s not their place.


Not being able to express and ventilate one’s feelings around such a loss can lead to feelings of isolation, shame, depression and low self-esteem. Even if it feels “silly”, I bet your therapist will feel differently. As Ms. Hill taught us, everything is everything, and this unturned stone could have valuable insights hidden underneath. Experiencing a new loss can re-open old losses from the past, leading to either beautiful corrective healing emotional experiences OR what is known as cumulative grief or bereavement overload. The latter is when you haven’t had sufficient time, energy or resource to process each loss, leading to overwhelm and feeling disconnected from hope and confidence that healing is possible. This unbearable feeling has become unfortunately common due to health crises, being in later stages of life and not allowing yourself to slow down enough to feel and heal the valid heartbreak that often comes with loss.

Collective Grief

Collective grief is when a group or culture grieve a particular loss together or multiples lives lost. COVID-19 and the current triple-demic has created many instances of collective grief across our nation. Collective grief has been felt for some time now over the many lives lost to systemic and institutionalized racism, hatred and fear of the LGBTQ community and over-policing of women’s bodies and rights around the world.

Inhibited Grief

Inhibited grief or masked grief is when we are intentionally or unintentionally avoiding processing the loss or distracting from it, trying to minimize its impact on our life. Snoozing or trying to avoid the necessary steps of grieving will likely keep you stuck in this phase for a longer period of time, sometimes, causing you to forget where this sad heaviness came from in the first place. The good news is that it’s never too late to work these feelings out. If you feel judged or invalidated by a therapist while disclosing your loss, you may want to share that with them, or find a therapist who might be a better match for you.

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About the Author

Desiree W. B., LCSW is a licensed clinical social worker and holistic health coach born in Brooklyn. She has provided Mental Health support in NYC for over 13 years serving as a community mental health counselor, group facilitator, researcher and program director before opening her private practice in 2017. Specializing in neurodiversity, chronic anxiety, depression and trauma, therapy with Desiree is a weekly commitment you'll be looking forward to. You'll find yourself able to deeply explore, with increasing ease, the feelings, thoughts, fears, blocks and limitations that have been preventing you from growth, authenticity, security and joy. You can contact Desiree on her MyWellbeing profile or directly on her website here.