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Grief Counseling NYC

Takeaway: If you’ve recently experienced a loss, you know how profoundly it can impact your life. Moving through grief isn’t easy, but with the right support, you can process your grief and move forward while still maintaining a connection to who or what you lost. 

Grief sucks, there's no denying it. One minute you might be struggling to get out of bed, and the next you're angry at the world and with those who have no idea what experiencing grief feels like and how painful it is to experience loss. In this post, you'll learn more about grief symptoms, disenfranchised loss, how therapy can be beneficial, and the grief counseling services we provide at Authentically Living Psychological Services.

Understanding grief

 

Grief is often a difficult experience to describe because it is such a unique process for each individual. Generally speaking, grief can best be understood as a complex emotional response to loss, typically, after the loss of someone significant in one's life. While grief is often associated with the passing of a loved one, it can also occur after the ending of a relationship, the loss of a job, a decline in health, or during periods of transition and change.

If you've recently experienced a loss or major life change, you may notice a decline in your mental health, physiological well-being, cognition, and in completing daily life tasks.

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Emotional Responses to Grief

It's important to note that grief encompasses a myriad of emotional responses. You may have heard of the five stages of grief, developed by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, a pioneer in the study of thanatology, death, dying, and bereavement. She described the following as major responses to loss:

  1. Denial: Denial is often the initial disbelief one experiences after loss. It is the difficulty someone experiences in their ability to accept the reality of the loss. A person may reject the diagnosis of a terminal illness or cancer diagnosis, for example, or news of a passing loved one, seeking to maintain normalcy.

  2. Anger: As the reality of the situation sets in, individuals may experience anger. This anger can be directed toward oneself, family members, friends, or even higher powers, as a way of expressing frustration towards perceived injustice.

  3. Bargaining: When bargaining, an individual may attempt to make deals to somehow reverse the loss. This can involve making promises and is often an attempt at gaining control over the situation.

  4. Depression: As the magnitude of the loss becomes more apparent, individuals may experience symptoms of depression, such as sadness and loss of enjoyment. A person's daily functioning may be drastically impacted, where self care may dwindle.

  5. Acceptance: Acceptance involves coming to terms with the reality of the loss and may include understanding and hope for one's future. Individuals may begin adjusting to their new reality and their lives after loss.

 

While Kubler-Ross described each experience as a stage, it's important to highlight that the above-described emotions are not linear nor do they represent all feelings comprised in grief. Additional emotional symptoms of grief may include:

  1. Anxiety: After loss, anxiety may increase due to confrontation with an existential limitation, such as death, and the realization of the inevitability of our mortality. We may experience panic, worry, and angst at the thought of death, when it will happen to us, and in what way. We may experience anxiousness surrounding life regrets and may ponder how we should be spending our time. We may become more fixated on the future, health anxiety, and what chronic illness may ail us.

  2. Loneliness: Our world may feel that much smaller after loss, as we may feel isolated from those around us who may not understand grief or who may feel uncomfortable with grief conversations. For example, if you're struggling with an autoimmune disease, you may feel isolated in your experience, as others may not understand what that experience is like and the losses associated with illness. If you are grieving the loss of a person, this may also increase loneliness, regardless of the relationship you had with the deceased. Distancing and reclusiveness are often symptoms and signs of depression, which is also common during periods of bereavement and prolonged grief.

  3. Relief: You may feel relieved that you are no longer in that toxic relationship with your ex knowing that the constant fights are over. As shocking as it may sound, you may also feel relieved your loved one has passed. The many hours spent at the hospital, the late-night phone calls, the expensive medical bills, and the constant worry about when it is going to happen are emotionally demanding and taxing. It's common to take a sigh after the line goes flat

  4. Yearning: Losing someone or something comes with incredible pain. It causes us to take a pause in life and reflect on memories and what we once had, whether that's memories of a lost loved one, or memories of the times we had our health and all the physical abilities we once were able to accomplished. We may find moving forward impossible, as we long for the presence of what or who we lost.

  5. Numbness: This experience may occur simultaneously when in a state of shock, and often immediately after a loss. We may be in such a state of disbelief, that to preserve our mental health we respond apathetically. You may find yourself saying that you don't feel anything. This is a common response to trauma.

  6. Confusion: Sometimes we don't know how to feel after a loss. This is especially true when the loss comes as a surpirse, or for those of us who may have had a complicated relationship with the deceased, as an example. Disorientation is common, as we may experience a sense of ungroundedness during periods of change.

  7. Hopeless: Despair and hopelessness are additional symptoms of depression and can occur during the grief process.

 

Physiological Responses to Grief

Since the mind and body are so interconnected, it is typical to experience physiological issues relating to grief.

  1. Nervous System Hyperactivity: Our sympathetic nervous system, responsible for our "fight or flight" responses can get activated when experiencing distress, anxiety, and overwhelm. When learning of loss, we may notice cardiovascular changes, such as heart palpitations and high blood pressure, in addition to shallow breathing.

  2. Disruptions in Sleep & Appetite: When grieving, we may be at a loss when it comes to the utilization of effective coping strategies. Overwhelmed with emotional pain, ruminating thoughts, distressing memories, and loneliness, we may be burdened with deregulated sleep cycles, nightmares, restlessness, and insomnia. With poor sleep hygiene, additional bodily clocks may also be off sync: we may notice a decrease in appetite or craving for carbohydrates and sweets. In our attempts to find solace and support we may purposely engage in restrictive and maladaptive eating behaviors. Such behaviors are often confused with healthy coping strategies and are often motivated by desires for control.

  3. Body Pains & Tension: It should be no surprise that with poor sleep, poor nutrition, hyperarousal, and distress, we may become plagued with body aches and tensions: headaches, gastrointestinal upset, jaw and nerve tension, and muscle tightness. The body truly does keep the score.

  4. Compromised Immune System: A person going through the grieving process may be more susceptible to illnesses and infections, as their immune systems are compromised due to insufficient self care and hygiene, practical coping strategies, and overwhelming pain.

  5. Fatigue & Decreased Energy: Grieving consumes considerable energy, and for those who are already struggling with daily functioning, depression, and a myriad of emotions since the loss, energy levels are going to be at an all-time low. One who is grieving may struggle to complete even menial tasks daily.

Cognitive Responses to Grief

Cognition is another word for how individuals think and process information. Cognitive responses to grief can impact thought patterns, beliefs, perceptions, and views.

  1. Poor Concentration & Attention: When grieving, you might find it difficult to focus on a task, retain what someone is saying, or engage in an activity that requires sustained attention. The ability to process grief is a large mental load, and when we go through a painful experience we have less cognitive capacity to maintain attention.

  2. Memory Impairment: Ever heard of "Grief Brain?" While the moment your loved one took their last breath might be hardwired into your brain, details of the past, recall, and short-term memory may be affected after loss. Memory distortions are another trauma response, which is common after grief and loss. I promise you are not losing your mind, you are just grieving.

  3. Intrusive Thoughts & Rumination: Replaying an event, fixating on a memory, and having disturbing nightmares and night terrors, are all common cognitive responses to loss.

  4. Temporal Disruptions: Because grief can be so life-changing and all-encompassing, we may lose track of time, especially when in a state of depression and when not practicing self-compassion and mental wellness.

  5. Existential Reflections: After a major life change, such as loss, we may engage in deep existential reflection. We may be curious about the meaning of life and may question our previously held beliefs and worldviews. We may further question who we are as individuals, our self-concept, what we believe to be important, and how we'd like to live more meaningfully.

While loss is a natural part of life, managing the myriad of emotions and responses to grief is difficult. Furthermore, it is important to highlight that grief can be the result of many different losses, not just that related to death, and that there is no wrong or right way to grieve.

Common signs that you could benefit from grief counseling

If you are experiencing any emotional, physiological, or cognitive disruptions after a loss you may benefit from grief counseling.​

1. Intense & Complicated Grief:     

If you find that your grief is intense, all-encompassing, considerably distressing, and persists for a long period, you may benefit from grief therapy. A grief therapist can provide support and a safe space to explore these intense experiences and feelings.

2. Social Withdrawal & Loneliness:

If you are feeling burdened by loneliness and are socially withdrawing to avoid reality and your neighbor's smiling faces, therapy can be a place to lean into those difficulties.

3. Trauma Responses:

If you are experiencing a disruption in memory, an overactive nervous system, and difficulty attending to the present moment, our New York City grief therapists can provide you with the resources to develop skills for stress reduction, cognitive flexibility, as well as mindfulness and meditative practices for self-soothing and present focused living.

4. Difficulty Completing Activities of Daily Living:

If you are noticing the dishes in the sink piling up, dust bunnies in the corner of your bedroom, and a mild human stank from struggling to bathe, therapy can be a place to collaboratively brainstorm a treatment plan that supports you through your healing journey.

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5. Regrets:

If you are experiencing regrets related to your loss and believe it is affecting your healing then grief counseling may be for you. Sessions can focus on how to come to terms with regrets and through therapeutic processing can aid in managing and letting go of such experiences that are keeping you stuck in grief.

6. Existential Thoughts:

If you are having existential anxiety related to death, existential reflection related to your meaning, and existential confusions about who you are as an individual, therapy is an explorative opportunity towards a renewed self and identification of what is meaningful to you.

7. Loss of Hope & Suicidal Thoughts:

If you are experiencing low self-regard, reduced self-compassion, loss of hope, a reduced desire to live, and are contemplating suicide it's imperative you reach out to your local emergency hotline or seek grief therapy.

8. Looking for Space:

You don't necessarily need a specific reason to seek therapy when grieving. Often those who are grieving don't know what they are even looking for when reaching out for therapy. Sometimes we just need space to be in the company of another person to sit with our grief. Therapy is a space that is judgment free, where validation, safety, and company are provided.

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Our approach to grief counseling in New York

At Authentically Living Psychological Services, we work with New York State residents experiencing grief and loss and for those searching for greater self-understanding and a new sense of purpose. We take a unique and individualized approach to grief therapy blending existential and humanistic therapies, mindfulness, compassion, and humor.

Existential therapy focuses on exploring the fundamental aspects of human existence, such as freedom, responsibility, meaning, and the inevitability of death. With grief, existential therapy can guide in exploring existential questions related to life, illness, and meaning.

Existential Approach to Grief Therapy

  1. Sitting with Existential Despair: Grief often brings experiences of existential despair, such as feelings of hopelessness and meaninglessness. An existential approach to grief therapy can help individuals navigate these emotions, by confronting them head-on and sitting in the discomfort. Oftentimes, we avoid difficult emotions, especially when they are full of pain. Our approach to grief therapy encourages the embodiment of such emotions, highlighting the importance of describing the experience in real-time, observing without judgment, and identifying the meaning of such experiences.

  2. Exploring Existential Angst: After a major life change, such as a loss (loss of financial security, loss of physical abilities, or loss of a loved one), existential angst is often ignited: the anxiety and uncertainty about the nature of life, our futures, and our pending demise. Our therapists can assist and support individuals in confronting such anxiety, develop skills to soothe the anxiousness and learn to live with the reality of our pending expiration and the difficult realities that come with loss.

  3. Addressing Isolation & Loneliness: Grief has a great potential for the experience of isolation and loneliness. Our therapists provide a supportive space for individuals to express the loneliness they experience in grief. Existential grief therapy often involves processing the purposeful social distancing that occurs due to feeling misunderstood and wanting to avoid social pressures to mask pain and "move on" with grief. Since our practice values relational work, therapy is often a space to practice creating genuine connections, learning to be vulnerable, and identifying what you need in relationships with others while grieving and living with loss.

  4. Accepting Loss through Freedom & Meaning: We can't wake up one day and magically choose not to grieve anymore. However, we can choose to live amidst the grief. Existential therapy emphasizes concepts such as freedom and responsibility, where a person can make choices for how they navigate through grief and towards a greater acceptance of loss. Grief counseling, utilizing an existential lens, involves exploring beliefs and attitudes about death, illness, one's mortality, loss, and how to create meaning and a life worth living even with the painful reality of our loss.

  5. Exploring Identity & Living Authentically: Grief often prompts individuals to reevaluate their identity and self-concept, curating self-doubt, and questioning beliefs and what it means to be you. Our existential approach to grief therapy involves a deep exploration of personal values, emotions, thoughts, and responses to grief without judgment, allowing individuals to embrace their genuine selves. Grief counseling further provides a space for individuals to explore questions related to who they are in the absence of the person or thing that was lost and align their living with what is genuine to them.

  6. Integrating Loss into Life: Our existential approach to grief therapy involves assisting individuals in integrating loss into their ongoing life journey. Together, sessions can consist of creating ways to honor the memory of what or who was lost while continuing to foster self-development, and towards self-fulfillment.

Our existential approach to grief therapy is relational, collaborative, and individualized, and includes conversations of depth, processing the pains and confusions associated with grief while fostering greater self-understanding, intentional living, and a life of fulfillment and meaningful experiences.

Meet Dr. Cynthia Shaw | Grief counselor in NYC

Dr. Cynthia Shaw is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist, existential therapist, and grief certified professional. She is the owner and founder of Authentically Living Psychological Services and works with adults residing across New York State and New York City looking for support in their grief healing journey. Dr. Shaw's approach to grief counseling is relational, process-oriented, existential, and trauma-informed. She values authenticity and genuine regard, and as a Northeast native is true to her direct and forthcoming communication style. She blends sincere empathy, dark humor (when appropriate), love, and respect for all those who work with her.

Dr. Shaw was trained as an existential therapist under the supervision and mentorship of internationally renowned psychologists Dr. Todd DuBose and Dr. Miles Groth. She sought additional training with Dr. Kirk Schneider through The Existential Humanistic Institute, as well as through literature from Drs. Emmy Van Deurzen and Ernesto Spinelli. She incorporates teachings from Laing, Frankl, Sartre, Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Yalom when working with clients. Dr. Shaw has additional education in the area of grief therapy, holding a certification as a grief professional.

Dr. Shaw's interest in supporting her clients through grief was motivated not only by her own experiences of loss but also by the pains and difficulties loss has plagued many of her loved ones. Whether that be the loss of physiological abilities, the loss of a relationship, the loss of financial security, or the loss of a loved one, Dr. Shaw was struck with how such losses drastically affected people across many areas of their lives. Grief is rather taboo, not only in mainstream society but even in the therapy world; many therapists are uncomfortable with loss and struggle to sit with such conversations. This acknowledgment further motivated Dr. Shaw's desire to help those who are already feeling so isolated in their experiences. Dr. Shaw appreciates the difficulties and complexities that come with grief, social judgments and expectations often displaced onto those grieving, and the vulnerability it takes to explore such pains. Moving at the pace of her clients preference, Dr. Shaw strives to create an unfiltered space, allowing her clients to truly express themselves towards greater self-understanding and a semblance of comfort admits a world that is surrounded by loss.

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Grief counseling services we offer

At Authentically Living Psychological Services our therapists offer individual therapy, family therapy, and group therapy for individuals living their days through grief and loss. We provide virtual services for New York residents. Before beginning grief therapy services, we offer a 15-minute free consultation to learn more about you and your loss, answer treatment questions, and assess goodness of fit. Based on our initial conversation we will determine how often to meet with your grief counselor. Typically, weekly meetings are recommended at the beginning and can titrate as time continues.

Individual Therapy for Grief

Individual grief therapy consists of meeting with a grief therapist one-on-one. Individual grief therapy will consist of processing issues relating to your loss, identifying practical coping strategies, learning stress reduction and mindfulness, exploring your sense of self, identifying ways to create meaning, and taking steps toward living a fulfilled and connected life while grieving.

Family Therapy for Grief

Family grief therapy consists of meeting with a grief counselor with participating family members. Families are typically disrupted after loss and thus grief therapy provides a space for them to come together to process their collective loss. Grief therapy allows members to not only learn how to communicate effectively and express their needs but also learn how each member may experience grief differently. For families with children and teens, grief therapy can be especially helpful in supporting them in expressing their emotions, identifying needs, and learning grief psychoeducation. Therapy can further provide support through conflict resolution, identifying ways to memorialize loss, and building resiliency, trust, and dependability within the system.

 

Support Groups for Grief

Bereavement groups consist of about 3-7 group members who have experienced loss and are looking for collective support amongst others who can share in their loss. Currently, our support groups are for those who have lost someone to death. Groups are process-oriented, include creative art interventions, and conclude with mindfulness practices at the end of each group. Our grief group runs for 3 months. Group members have the option to continue meeting at the conclusion of the 3 month for additional support.

If you are interested in learning more about our grief counseling services click here. A member of our staff will return your inquiry within 24-48 hours.

Why choose Authentically Living Psychological Services for grief counseling

Our grief therapists at Authentically Living Psychological Services are not only ethically sound and clinically competent, relying on up-to-date practice and treatment modalities needed to support our clients, but are also genuine, heartfelt, and down-to-earth - making it easier to talk about the complexities and vulnerabilities that come with grieving. Dr. Shaw and her team are dedicated to providing warmth, care, and sincere regard for your health, wellness, and continued success.

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Our grief therapy is unique in that we focus on the following:

  • We strive to create a safe space for you to process the significance of your loss and how the effects are multifaceted.

  • We provide validation regarding the varying emotional experiences you have within your grief, even those experiences less accepted and that may come with shame.

  • We take a person-centered approach, which means we will not rush your grief.

  • We sit with your existential anxieties on mortality, and the dread and hopelessness that sometimes accompanies such awareness.

  • We are nondirective, which means we enter the space open to where the session will lead us organically.

  • We aim to ease pressures often experienced socially by limiting the use of goal setting and entering the space without intention.

  • We encourage the practice of self advocation, boundary setting, and expression of needs to others.

  • We ask challenging questions to aid in-depth work needed to better understand who you are and what your values are towards a newfound self.

  • We provide support in your self-development amidst grief and what it means for you to live a purposeful life.

  • We accept your current set of coping skills, even those that may be less adaptive.

  • We provide psychoeducation: stress reduction tools, mindfulness, grounding exercises, and ways to cultivate wellness.

  • We explore ways you can connect with yourself, others, and the world around you.

  • We collaboratively identify activities to memorialize loss, in addition to exploring ways to foster greater independence and comfort and confidence with yourself.

  • We stay with you through the highs and the lows of your journey and are there to remind you that grieving isn't something that just goes away.

  • We are dedicated to the therapeutic relationship and welcome feedback to further our development in how to best assist you.

Our grief therapy is special in that we truly hear what it is you are saying (even when you are not speaking). We immerse ourselves in sessions so that you feel seen, validated, and less alone. We hope that you walk away from sessions feeling the slightest bit of hope that your grief will not always feel all-encompassing and that you trust that the therapeutic process will be supportive in the development of yourself and towards some semblance of inner calm and connectedness.

  • What type of counseling is best for grief?
    There are many different types of counseling practices for addressing grief. The choice of modality is specific to the provider, as well as the assessment of client needs, preferences, and the nature of grief. Below are common counseling services typically provided for grief: Existential & Humanistic Therapy: Existential and humanistic therapy are interconnected therapies that focus on self-understanding while confronting limitations to being human, such as death, illness, and demise, responsibilities and freedom to make choices, and what it means to be authentic. The therapies highlight the integration of exploring meaning, purpose, and personal fulfillment while recognizing and challenging the irony of pointlessness and the inevitability of loss. Positive Psychology: Positive psychology has similarities to existential and humanistic therapy, as it focuses on promoting wellness and self-growth despite loss. Positive psychology is more strength-based and relies on personal resiliency, meaningful goals, and gratitude to navigate grief. Art & Expressive Therapy: Expressive therapies include the use of creative art interventions such as drawing, writing, painting, singing, dancing, and acting to process grief and loss. The use of mainstream talk therapy can sometimes be challenging for those who are grieving, and thus resorting to nonverbal forms of expression can be cathartic and supportive. Narrative Therapy: Similar to Expressive therapies and Positive Psychology, Narrative therapy focuses on allowing a person to story and describe their experience of loss. Identifying personal resiliency and noted strengths, narrative therapy further focuses on the re-narrating or re-storying of the loss; It provides an opportunity to notice new perspectives as we move through loss. Mindfulness-Based Therapy: Helpful as an additive to all modalities, especially for those grieving, Mindfulness-Based Therapy focuses on incorporating stress reduction tools, meditation practices, and mindfulness exercises to aid in down-regulating one's heightened nervous system, self-soothe, and ground an individual. Logotherapy: A branch of Existential therapy, Logotherapy is also an additive therapy that focuses specifically on creating meaning. Even in the face of suffering, Logotherapy highlight how we can still choose to create meaning. For unchanging situations, such as after loss, incorporating attitudinal shifts is a primary focus of logotherapy. Transpersonal Psychology & Grief Therapy: Known as a spiritual and holistic form of therapy, Transpersonal psychology focuses on experiences of interconnectedness such as during states of flow, sereneness, and meditation, and while using certain therapeutic substances, such as psychedelics. In the context of grief, this modality can help a person striving for connection with nature, and greater self alignment, and those interested in exploring their spiritual and religious beliefs and connections. Group & Family Therapy: As highlighted above, Group and Family therapy are effective modalities for those looking for greater communal support, collective processing, and learning how to better communicate and connect. Our practice offers a variety of the modalities presented above. If you have questions about a modality that you do not see listed, please contact us and a member of our staff will return your inquiry in 24-48 hours.
  • Is group therapy good for grief?
    Group therapy is a supportive modality for addressing grief, as it provides a space for peer support, communal validation, decreased isolation and loneliness, normalization of certain experiences, and an opportunity to share without fear of judgment. Group therapy encourages the expression of difficult emotions that may be more challenging to have with friends and colleagues, and is a platform for practicing how to advocate for your needs. Our grief therapy group offers a unique opportunity to utilize creative practices to express and address grief, that doesn't solely rely on the use of verbal processing. We have found that grief is often difficult to talk about and that words do not always express our experiences justly. In addition to creative interventions, such as writing, drawing, and painting, our incorporation of mindfulness exercises aids in down-regulating your nervous system at the end of group, and are additional tools for you to practice at your leisure when overwhelmed with the distress of grief. If you are interested in learning more about our grief group and whether this might be a good fit for you, reach out by clicking here. A member of our staff will return your inquiry in 24-48 hours.
  • How soon should you have bereavement counseling?
    The timing for starting bereavement therapy is different from person to person. Taking into account the nature of a loss, a person's readiness and interest in therapy, availability of supportive factors and coping skills, and cultural factors can influence when and if a person will seek bereavement counseling. It's important to remember that the healing process is unique for everyone and so there is no right or wrong time to seek therapy and that regardless of when your loss occurred, it is never too late to start grief therapy.
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Grief counseling can help you find meaning after loss. 

At Authentically Living Psychological Services we embody existential philosophies and value the importance of being human when working with those who are experiencing loss and grief. If you are a resident of New York looking to gain support through grief therapy we encourage you to reach out today.

We will look forward to working with you and appreciate your trust.

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