Grief is a strong emotional experience that we all experience in our lifetime, some more than others. When we discuss grief, we typically associate this emotional experience with the death of a loved one, friend, pet, or other important figure in our life. In reality, grief isn’t always that simple. In this resource, we review 50 grief counseling questions you can ask your clients in a therapy session.
Grief can be the result of various experiences, including a terminal diagnosis, divorce, a breakup, and the loss of employment. Grief can also come up among individuals who are in recovery from a substance use disorder. This is often related to sadness that stems from the purpose of, or their relationship with, substances.
In addition to the loss itself, secondary losses are a common experience. Secondary losses are the things that we have lost as a result of the primary loss. As an example, someone who has unexpectedly become a widow, or widower, may find themselves grieving for the plans that they had with their partner. From things as simple as weekly coffee dates to family traditions, retirement plans, and future goals would fall into the category of secondary losses.
Grief is a natural reaction to loss and is a shared experience across the human species. With that being said, grief is an individualized and personal experience that affects each of us differently. You may find that the grief you’re expressing or showing others is different from your internal experiences. Additionally, the grief we experience for different losses often has unique characteristics. Some of the reasons for these differences include:
- The nature of your relationship with what was lost
- The value placed on your loss
- Your age and understanding of the loss
- Your mental health
- Your previous experience with grief and loss
- If the loss was a surprise
- If you feel responsible in some way for the death or loss
Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross has provided an influential and highly regarded understanding of death and dying. One component of her works includes the Five Stages of Dying, which she and other professionals have applied to significant life changes in addition to grief. The stages of this model include denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
These stages help us understand the grieving experience, and we need to be cognizant of the fact that grief may or may not be as linear as this for each individual. You may find that some clients experience the different stages in a different order, and with different intensities and severities.
Examples of the different emotions that can come up during the grieving process include:
- Lost or lacking direction in life
- Absent grief
Getting Ready for Your First Therapy Session with a New Client with Grief, Loss, and Bereavement
Depending on the clinical setting that you work in, your first session with a new client can include various interventions, assessments, and procedures. Initial assessments can include screeners, assessments, biopsychosocial assessments, and completing necessary consents. If you work in a setting where the initial assessments are completed by another professional, you will have more information going into your session with your new client, which can give you a bit more freedom about the topics covered and overall content of your session.
Clients can initiate counseling services after experiencing a significant loss or death, and when they find themselves struggling with their mental health after experiencing loss and grief. Given the nature of grief, you may also encounter pre-existing clients who experience unexpected, and expected, losses. When this occurs, you may find yourself turning the focus of your sessions to include questions about grief to provide them with the appropriate support.
With the heaviness that can come with grief counseling, we must talk about the importance of counselor self-care and mental health wellness. Despite the safeguarding that we may have regarding our clinical work, it is understandable that we, as mental health professionals, are impacted by the stories that we hear. Allowing time for supervision and consultation with colleagues can help you pick up on some of the subtle signs that you could benefit from showing yourself some kindness and compassion in your own way.
Grief Counseling Questions to Ask Clients in Therapy
The grief counseling questions that we ask can be used to open up a conversation, learn about our client’s experiences, and encourage clients to process things that they may have been delaying. Grief can be an unpredictable experience for our clients, and our therapy sessions can provide them with a safe landing space where they can let their guard down and truly experience their emotions.
Examples of grief counseling questions to ask your clients include:
- Is there anything on your mind today that you’d like to spend time on?
- How has this last week been for you?
- What do you feel challenged you the most this week?
- How can I help you?
- Can you share a happy memory about your loved one with me?
- What are some of the characteristics you would use to describe your loved one?
- Can we talk about the death?
- Can you share with me what you were doing on the day of the death?
- Where were you when you learned of the death?
- Can you share with me who informed you of the death?
- How did you respond to the news?
- Was the death a surprise to you?
- How do you feel about your reaction to this change in your life?
- How was your relationship with them before their death?
- Do you have any unresolved business with them?
- Is there anything you wish you had said or asked them before their death?
- Are you carrying any guilt from this?
- Do you feel responsible for the death in one way or another?
- How has their death impacted your mental health?
- Has their death affected your physical health?
- How would you say that your relationships have changed since the death occurred?
- How did those around you respond to the death?
- Did you find yourself minimizing, or hiding, your grief from those around you?
- Why do you think that is?
- What kept you from showing others your true self in your grieving process?
- Is there any tension or concerns that have come up among family and friends since the death?
- How do you feel about your grief?
- When do you feel your grief the most?
- Where in your body do you feel your grief?
- How comfortable are you sitting in your grief?
- What changes have you noticed about your emotions when your grief comes up?
- How have you been sleeping?
- Have you noticed any changes to your appetite or diet since the death?
- How have your concentration and focus been?
- Do you feel as though you’ve been managing your grief well?
- Whom in your life can you lean on for support?
- Have you been able to talk to anyone in your life about the death?
- Have you found anything that helps you cope with your grief?
- Have you found yourself using drugs or alcohol to cope with your grief? Or any gambling, shopping, or sex?
- What is grief to you?
- Did you have any previous experiences with loss or death before this?
- Can you tell me about your previous experiences with grief?
- What did you learn from your grief?
- How would you like others to grieve their loss when you die?
- Have you felt pleasure or happiness since their death?
- What do you feel is keeping you from feeling happy?
- When you think about previous difficulties you’ve had in your life, what helped you get through those moments?
- What are some of your strengths that you can rely on during these challenging times?
- What has brought you comfort recently?
- How can you show yourself kindness and compassion today?
Final Thoughts on Grief Counseling Questions to Ask Clients
We appreciate you taking a few moments to read about loss and grief questions that you can use in your work. While grief is a natural experience for us, it can bring up serious questions about life, purpose, and meaning. Clients may feel as though their whole world was flipped upside down and are just looking for a way to get their feet back on the ground. Providing clients with a compassionate and understanding environment can help them work through their grief and loss so that they can be active in their grief. Helping clients find ways to bring meaning into their lives after a loss and death can be a powerful, and humbling experience.
If you have found your interest in grief and loss counseling peaked, we encourage you to consider the various continuing education and training opportunities near you. Since grief and loss are a part of living, this is undoubtedly a shared human experience that we can support each other in.
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- Tyrrell P, Harberger S, Schoo C, et al. Kubler-Ross Stages of Dying and Subsequent Models of Grief. [Updated 2023 Feb 26]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK507885/