Crafting an Evidence-Based Grief and Loss Treatment Plan: Everything You Need to Know

Grief is a natural response to loss, encompassing a range of emotions like sadness, anger, and guilt. It’s not just about losing a loved one but can also stem from other significant changes in life, like career shifts or relationship endings. Managing grief involves navigating through unpredictable emotions and physical symptoms like fatigue or changes in appetite and sleep patterns. Discover how to create a treatment plan for grief and loss, including an example.

While grief is a universal experience, its impact can vary widely. Each loss brings its unique set of challenges and emotions, making it difficult to predict how we’ll cope until we’re faced with it. Coping with grief is a crucial part of the healing journey, even though it can be incredibly painful.

Complicated grief, on the other hand, is characterized by prolonged and intense feelings that persist longer than usual, affecting daily life and functioning. It’s essential to recognize and address these symptoms to support healing and well-being effectively.

As clinicians, there are several therapeutic approaches you could use when working with clients who present with grief and bereavement concerns, including:

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Setting Goals and Objectives With Clients in a Grief and Loss Treatment Plan

When starting to craft a grief treatment plan, it’s vital to consider the whole person rather than just focusing on their grief. Like many mental health issues, grief is intricate and can be unpredictable. It’s crucial to also consider other aspects of their life that may contribute to their symptoms, ensuring they are addressed in a comprehensive treatment plan for grief and loss.

Studies show that many individuals navigate their grieving process without professional intervention, often seeing improvements over time. However, bereavement can lead to various mental health challenges that may prompt someone to seek counseling or therapy.

To develop an effective treatment plan, gathering more information is necessary, typically done through an intake assessment. The Indicator of Bereavement Adaption (IBACS) is a validated tool used for individuals with grief and bereavement concerns, alongside other commonly used assessments.

Other tools commonly used include:

  • The Texas Revised Inventory of Grief (TRIG)
  • The Inventory of Complicated Grief (ICG)
  • The Grief Experience Questionnaire (GEQ)
  • The Structured Clinical Interview for Complicated Grief (SCI-CG)
  • The Grief Evaluation Measure (GEM)

During your evaluation, it’s crucial to assess for mental health conditions and other life stressors that might be amplifying your client’s challenges. This includes mood disorders, PTSD, changes in employment, and financial strain. Additionally, have a conversation with your client about their counseling goals. Some may want to focus on processing their relationship with a person or relationship loss and its impact. Others may simply seek a compassionate listener and a safe space to express themselves authentically.

What to Include in a Treatment Plan for Grief and Loss + Example

Our sample treatment plan for grief and loss will follow a hypothetical case to demonstrate the different aspects of a treatment plan. Our treatment plan aligns with the  customizable treatment plan available at TherapyPatron. Continue reading for a brief description of a grief case for Jane:

Case Example:

Since her grandmother’s death 3 weeks ago, Jane has been experiencing a range of distressing symptoms. She reports feeling irritable and easily agitated, particularly in situations that remind her of her grandmother. Sarah has been struggling with sleep disturbances, finding it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep throughout the night. As a result, she feels fatigued and lethargic during the day. Sarah has also noticed changes in her appetite and weight gain. She describes feeling preoccupied with thoughts of her grandmother’s decline and the early signs of dementia that she exhibited before her death. Sarah worries that she may also be at risk for developing dementia, and is hyper aware of any lapses in memory or cognitive function. She noted that she experienced her second miscarriage about 8 months ago and feels as though she has been “stuck” in grief for almost a year. Jane said that her interest in counseling was self-motivated and that her husband is supportive of her choice. She denied having any physical health concerns and is not working with other health professionals outside of her primary care physician for medical needs. 

Agencies Involved and Plans for Care Coordination

In this case example, Jane reported that she did not indicate working with other health professionals. At this time, there is no need for care coordination.

Example for Jane:

Other Agency: None at this time

Plan to Coordinate Services: N/A

Clinical Diagnoses

Jane’s current symptoms appear to fall within the normative range of grief and bereavement. Because this is a normative reaction to death and loss, it is not sufficient for a mental health diagnosis on its own. However, it is important to be mindful of her symptoms as you continue working together to monitor for conditions such as major depressive disorder. With that being said, you can still utilize appropriate screeners and assessments commonly used for her presenting concern.

Example for Jane:

No diagnosis at this time

Supporting Assessments: Indicator of Bereavement Adaption, Score 27

Current Medications and Responses

Jane has indicated that she is not currently taking psychotropic medications.

Example for Jane:

None at this time

Presenting Problem and Related Symptoms

This section of your treatment plan will describe your client’s presenting concern in detail, being mindful of relevant symptoms. Your description should provide readers with a thorough understanding of your client’s symptoms, impairment, and overall emotional well-being.

Example for Jane:

Jane is a 33-year-old female who works as a teacher. Her symptoms are consistent with the normative process of grief.  Her irritability, sleep disturbances, appetite changes, and preoccupation with cognitive decline suggest a significant impact on her emotional and physical well-being. J.’s concerns about her cognitive functioning may be indicative of anticipatory grief or anxiety about her own mortality, exacerbated by her grandmother’s experience with dementia. J. reported having a miscarriage earlier in the year, which was difficult for her to cope with at the time, and she has been able to work through this grief. She denied the use of psychotropic medications and identified her husband as a healthy support person. 

Goals and Objectives

The goals and objectives of your grief and loss treatment plan should be specific to your client, realistic for their capabilities and resources, and attainable within the designated time frame. Goals on a treatment plan tend to be long-term goals your client is working towards, with objectives describing short-term goals that work towards their overarching goal. Your treatment plan can note the therapeutic approach and interventions you’ll be using.

Example for Jane:

Goal 1:

Reduce Symptoms of Grief and Improve Coping Skills

  • Objective 1: Increase awareness of maladaptive thought patterns and beliefs related to grief through cognitive restructuring exercises, such as identifying and challenging irrational beliefs about loss and mortality.
  • Objective 2: Develop and implement adaptive coping strategies, including relaxation techniques (e.g., deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation) and mindfulness practices (e.g., mindful breathing, body scan) to manage distressing emotions and physical symptoms associated with grief.
  • Objective 3: Enhance problem-solving skills to address practical challenges and stressors related to the loss, such as organizing memorial events, managing legal matters, or maintaining social connections with supportive individuals.

Goal 2:

Improve Sleep Quality and Reduce Sleep Disturbances

  • Objective 1: Implement a structured sleep hygiene routine, including consistent bedtime and wake-up times, creating a comfortable sleep environment, and avoiding stimulating activities before bedtime.
  • Objective 2:  Incorporate mindfulness-based relaxation techniques into the bedtime routine to promote relaxation and reduce arousal before sleep, such as guided imagery or progressive muscle relaxation.
  • Objective 3: Develop and practice a mindfulness meditation routine, such as a body scan or loving-kindness meditation, to cultivate present-moment awareness and reduce rumination or worries that may interfere with sleep.

Goal 3:

Enhance Emotional Regulation and Reduce Anxiety Symptoms

  • Objective 1:  a. Learn cognitive-behavioral coping skills to identify and challenge anxiety-provoking thoughts and beliefs related to grief and anticipatory fears about cognitive decline, using techniques such as cognitive restructuring and thought records.
  • Objective 2: Engage in mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) practices to cultivate acceptance and non-judgmental awareness of difficult emotions, allowing for a more compassionate and balanced response to grief-related distress.
  • Objective 3: Develop an individualized anxiety management plan, including relaxation techniques, mindfulness practices, and coping strategies to implement during times of heightened anxiety or distress, such as grounding exercises or self-soothing activities

Specific Interventions to Be Used

The therapeutic interventions mentioned within your treatment plan should align with your therapeutic approach, and what would best fit your client’s needs. Grief is an individualized experience, so it is important to reflect on the information you gathered during your evaluation and assessments as you formulate your treatment plan. This particular section of your treatment plan can be a helpful resource for specific interventions to use in session, and to identify who is responsible for carrying out actions that work towards identified goals and objectives. 

Example for Jane:

  • Intervention/Action: Cognitive restructuring and coping skills training
  • Responsible Person: Counselor A
  • Intervention/Action: Mindfulness breathing and body scans
  • Responsible Person: Counselor A
  • Intervention/Action: Psychoeducation about sleep hygiene
  • Responsible Person: Counselor A
  • Intervention/Action: Introduction to self-soothing activities including deep breathing and gentle movement exercises
  • Responsible Person: Counselor A

Family Involvement

Family support for clients struggling with grief and loss can be impactful. Jane mentioned that her husband was supportive of her choice to engage in counseling, which indicates a positive support system. You can begin by asking Jane if she would like to have anyone join her in sessions, but this may not be necessary unless some conflicts or disagreements have resulted from the death. In this example, Jane did not mention conflict, so family involvement in therapy may not be necessary.

Example for Jane:

At this time, Jane does not wish to involve his family in her treatment

Additional Services and Interventions

Additional treatment services can be used to enhance Jane’s treatment experience and provide comprehensive care. You can begin by providing her with a few relevant referrals, and provide her additional ones as they become relevant or needed.

Examples for Jane:

  • Provide referral for grief and loss support group
  • Refer to primary care physician for evaluation of health needs

Estimation for Completion

The estimated time of completion for Jane will depend on the continuation of her symptoms and her overall well-being. Grief therapy is usually a short-term treatment option; however, it can last from a few weeks to a few months. Individuals who do not find that they are adjusting to the loss and are continuing to experience impairment should be monitored for complicated grief.

Example for Jane:

12 sessions over 3 months, to be adjusted as needed

Aftercare Plans

Aftercare plans should reflect the current needs of your client in the case of a sudden discharge or unexpected termination. You can adjust this section as needed, to reflect the current needs of your client. 

Example for Jane:

Aftercare plans:

  • Continued therapy and counseling
  • Support group for grief and loss
  • Continue with regular use of relaxation strategies and coping skills

Final Thoughts On Creating a Treatment Plan for Grief and Loss

Creating a grief and loss treatment plan involves deeply understanding your client’s individual experiences, needs, and objectives. Building a therapeutic connection based on empathy, sensitivity, and honoring their grieving journey establishes a secure environment for them to share their emotions, memories, and challenges stemming from the loss.

Ultimately, the aim of grief and loss therapy is to guide clients through their grieving process, aiding them in finding meaning and healing amidst their loss. Collaboratively, you can empower clients to manage their grief in a healthy manner, fostering resilience and personal growth in the aftermath of loss.

TherapyPatron offers various worksheets and therapy aides that can support you in your work with clients experiencing grief and loss, including this Coping Skills Worksheet Bundle. Visit TherapyPatron’s worksheets to view additional template options!

TherapyPatron.com helps mental health professionals better serve their clients. Our (editable, fillable, printable PDF) therapy worksheets can help you streamline your practice, effectively deliver different types of therapy, and support your clients be the best version of themselves.

  • Sale! DBT Worksheets Bundle

    DBT Worksheets Bundle (Editable, Fillable, Printable PDFs)

    Original price was: $299.99.Current price is: $149.99. Add to cart
  • Sale! Coping Skills Worksheets Bundle

    Coping Skills Worksheets Bundle (Editable, Fillable, Printable PDFs)

    Original price was: $319.99.Current price is: $149.99. Add to cart

View our Counseling treatment Plan that corresponds with this resource

Resources:

  • Newsom, Catherine et al. “Effectiveness of bereavement counselling through a community-based organization: A naturalistic, controlled trial.” Clinical psychology & psychotherapy vol. 24,6 (2017): O1512-O1523. doi:10.1002/cpp.2113
Anthony Bart
Author: Anthony Bart

Anthony Bart is a huge mental health advocate. He has primarily positioned his marketing expertise to work with mental health professionals so that they can help as many patients as possible.

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