Grief Counseling Effectiveness Depends On Your Interest

~ By Adam Altschuh, PsyD ~

A quick Google search might indicate that grief counseling is not very effective. This well publicized idea, though, is incomplete and harmful.

The caution against grief counseling is a benevolent one. It is based in the well-established finding that many people don’t need professional help to effectively work through their grief. However, this warning stigmatizes the minority (which, mind you, is still a large number of people!) who do in fact need help:

  • 10-20% of people who experience a death loss develop what’s called complicated grief. All of the same research that cautions against grief counseling explicitly recommends grief counseling for people with complicated grief. I would go one step further and recommend grief counseling to a person at risk for complicated grief. You can read more about complicated grief here.
  • Most studies actively recruit their participants. This method distorts their findings because research then includes many people who never would have sought grief counseling on their own. This contrasts with my experience as a practicing psychologist: nearly every client I work with has sought me out. And it turns out this is a key difference! A less well publicized review found that grief counseling is effective for people who self-select to receive treatment (Effectiveness of Grief Therapy: A Meta-Analaysis, Allumbaugh & Hoyt, 1999). So if you’re considering grief counseling, your mere interest will improve it’s ability to help you.

Grief is ultimately an individual process, and a difficult one (like most psychological phenomena) to understand. If you’d like to talk through whether grief counseling would help you, contact a local professional like myself.

Dr. Adam Altschuh is a psychologist in private practice in Denver where he specializes in treating patients and caregivers dealing with the impact of life-threatening illness. For more information, call him at 720-515-9427 or visit

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