Going through the loss of a loved one or another grief process can be an incredibly painful experience. Grief is an unfortunate fact of life. But finding help from a trained mental health professional can offer much-needed assistance as you navigate your grief and come out the other side intact.

Grief may change you. Loss can shift the course of your life. But it doesn’t have to consume you, impair your ability to live as you see fit, or get in the way of living a happy and healthy life. You can navigate the stages of grief and professional therapy can help.

The Five Stages of Grief

Grief and loss are often broken down into stages, known as the five stages of grieving. This model of grief was developed by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross after decades of work with terminally ill patients. It explains how grief can manifest in people over time.

Importantly, the stages of grieving are a process. While it might provide an outline, the five-stage framework does not necessarily imply that grieving is linear. People can find themselves “stuck” in a certain stage, skip stages altogether, or transition from a later stage back to one of the earlier stages of grieving.

What the five stages of grieving do provide is a helpful outline of the grieving process. They also demonstrate some of the common challenges people face during this difficult period.

1. Denial

The first stage of grief is denial. In this phase, people resist the idea that a loss has actually occurred and cling to the reality that existed before. They may assume that the person telling them about the loss has been mistaken or actively repress the thought of loss altogether.

The reason for denial is relatively simple; it protects people from the difficult and often overwhelming emotions of grief that come to follow denial. People who live in this first stage of grief don’t have to deal with the reality of death, loss, or learning to live in a new world where something or someone important has been taken away from them.

2. Anger

Denial is usually one of the more short-lived stages of grieving. People cannot deny reality forever, and they begin to come to terms with their loss. But rather than fully embracing the difficult emotions and experiences that this can bring about, they instead turn to anger, which is often an easier emotion to handle than sadness or depression.

Anger is often referred to as a secondary emotion. This means that it arises in response to another, deeper emotion. Anger lets people externalize rather than internalize their feelings. This could look like:

  • Striking walls or breaking furniture
  • Yelling at friends or loved ones
  • Engaging in road rage
  • Expressing frustration with your boss or coworkers
  • Accusing other people of being responsible for the loss

Anger is the first stage where people begin to embrace the emotions of grief. But by focusing their attention outward instead of inward, they continue to protect themselves from fully experiencing the negative effects of their loss.

3. Bargaining

The next stage is known as bargaining. People in this phase can make desperate pleas or attempts to negotiate — often with a higher power. They may pray to reverse the loss, offer to trade themselves for their lost loved one, or make other attempts to somehow reverse the process of loss.

These bargaining attempts are generally fruitless. However, they provide some semblance of hope that somehow the experience of grief and loss can be reversed.

When people are grieving before a loss, sometimes called anticipatory grief, this stage can often manifest in people making appeals to doctors, religious advisors, or family members. For example, a terminally ill patient may push for increasingly experimental therapies, alternative treatments, or spiritual healing despite their diagnosis.

4. Depression

The next stage of grief is depression. This is the point when people truly embrace the underlying feeling of grief and enter a state of mourning. During this stage, people can show all the signs characteristic of depressive disorders, such as:

  • Loss of motivation
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Feelings of despair or hopelessness
  • Sleep difficulties
  • Appetite changes
  • Social withdrawal

The length of the depressive stage differs substantially between individuals and cultures. Grieving during this stage is typically not considered to be a mental health disorder like major depression is, however. This is because it’s a naturally occurring process that doesn’t imply that a person is having difficulty adjusting to life.

In some cases, though, people can find themselves stuck in this stage of depression for weeks or months without a clear path toward recovery. These prolonged periods of grief can often be helped with professional mental health services or therapy. Through these services, individuals can learn tools to break free from their depressed state.

5. Acceptance

The last of the stages of grieving is known as acceptance. Acceptance is not a removal of grief, nor does it imply that people have returned to their mental state before their loss. Instead, it is a stage where people have come to accept the loss and are ready to continue living their lives without being controlled by the grieving process.

Grief can change individuals. The death of a parent, for instance, often alters a person’s outlook on life forever. It is a transitional period where people must adjust to their new reality and learn how to live after going through their grief.

How Therapy for Grief and Loss Can Help

Dealing with a significant loss is difficult for anyone. And despite the five stages of grieving, there is no “right” way to handle these terrible events. Everyone deals with grief in their own way, on their own timetable, and on their own terms.

But sometimes, you can get stuck in prolonged stretches of time where you feel like you cannot get out from under your grief. And other times, you might struggle to keep up with your life because of your emotions.

When you find yourself in a situation like this, it’s time to consider meeting with a grief therapist. Doing so can provide you with several essential tools and services to help you navigate the stages of grieving.

Validating Your Feelings

One of the primary benefits of meeting with a grief and loss therapist is having someone who can listen to and validate your feelings. In the grief process, many people find this validation in friends and family, particularly in the early weeks after a loss.

But as time goes on, other people for whom the grief was less impactful start to resonate with your feelings less and less. It can feel like the world is moving on without you or that the very real feelings you have are no longer accepted by others.

This can be an incredibly difficult experience for people who still feel the pangs of grief. Whether you are in an anger, bargaining, or depressive stage, it can be extremely cathartic to get these feelings out and have someone who truly understands.

Healthy Emotional Expression

A grief and loss therapist not only validates these emotions but also helps you to express them in healthy and positive ways. When you are wracked with the emotions of grief but continue living a life of work, responsibilities, and social gatherings, it can feel like these emotions get bottled up and build in pressure if you don’t let them out.

While it’s not always possible or socially acceptable to express these emotions right when you begin to feel them, you can always express them with your grief therapist. Furthermore, your therapist can offer guidance on ways you can express these emotions in your daily life and avoid the pitfalls of emotional repression or denial.

Tools to Reframe Negative Thoughts

Many people who find themselves “stuck” in a particular stage of grieving need professional support to help move toward the next stage. Clinical research that has been evolving for decades has developed a number of tools to help people break free from these negative spirals and move toward a more adaptive and healthy pattern.

Reframing is a skill taught by cognitive behavioral therapists. Cognitive-behavioral therapy recognizes how thoughts, actions, and moods all influence one another. It also addresses how spirals of negative thoughts can lead to a depressed mood, an angry outburst, or even behaviors such as social withdrawal.

By working with a grief therapist, you can identify your patterns of negative thoughts that no longer serve your recovery. When these patterns are identified, your therapist can assist you in reframing them in a more objective perspective. This can both help you feel better and lead you to healthy behavioral change in the future.

Letting Go of Guilt

Many people dealing with the grieving process experience intense feelings of guilt or shame. You might blame yourself for the loss, for not making peace with a lost loved one before the tragic event, or for any number of situations that can happen in the time leading up to loss.

If people hold onto guilt for too long, it can affect other aspects of their mental health. In particular, it can lead to anxiety, depression, or a buildup of chronic stress that makes it hard to go about everyday life. A grief therapist can help people to let go of this guilt, find the capacity for self-forgiveness, and navigate this difficult period.

Building a New Narrative

The final and most enduring stage of the grief therapy process is building a new narrative. No therapist can remove the reality of grief and loss. However, they can help you to create a new narrative for yourself in the new changed reality you live in.

Your therapist can help you recognize your own strength and resilience as you deal with your loss. In turn, you can begin to understand the ways your grief has shaped you into a new person and take advantage of these changes to create a better life for yourself in the future.

For you, this might mean finding a new sense of purpose, creating routines to manage your grief in the future, or providing you with a space to celebrate your loved ones rather than simply grieve their loss. No matter what you need, your therapist can help you with it, shaping your new narrative to carry you through life with your head held high.

Start Grief and Loss Therapy at Plus by APN

Plus by APN provides our clients with a comprehensive suite of mental health services to overcome their challenges and achieve recovery. If you’d like to start grief and loss therapy with one of our expert providers, reach out to our team today by calling us at 424.644.6486 or by filling out our online contact form for more information.


  • “Depression.” National Institute of Mental Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/depression. Accessed 24 May 2024.
  • Elisabeth Kübler-Ross & David Kessler Five Stages of Grief, grief.com/images/pdf/5%20Stages%20of%20Grief.pdf. Accessed 25 May 2024.