What’s The Difference Between The 5 Stages Of Grief (And The 7 Stages Of Grief)

Updated October 30, 2020


A loss in your life can come in the form of the loss of a loved one, job, status, or the loss of any circumstance that causes a jarring upset and a drastic change in your life. If you've recently experienced a loss - you may find yourself going through the stages of grief. There has been some debate in the field of psychology about whether there are only five stages of grief, or if there are an additional two stages that make a total of seven stages.

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In this article, we discuss the five stages of grief and the seven stages of grief that affect people who have recently experienced a loss. At the end of the article, we provide an overview of online therapy options that can help someone to heal from a recent loss.

Types Of Grief

Grief refers to feelings, behaviors, and thoughts that are associated with loss or bereavement. It could be normal or abnormal. The normal grief shows typical symptoms such as shock, numbness, disbelief, anger, sadness, disturbed appetite, sleep, etc.

The abnormal or complicated or pathological or morbid grief is the grief reaction that is really intense, delayed, absent or prolonged. There may also be feelings of worthlessness, excessive guilt, suicidal thoughts, etc.

What Are The 5 Stages Of Grief

When you experience a loss, your mind and body process that loss as best they can. Some people can handle loss and recover quickly. Others may become stuck in one of the following five stages of grief. When people experience grief, they may have trouble functioning in their daily lives and begin to show signs of mental illness. People who are grieving often deal with bouts of anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder. Any of these mental health conditions can result from unresolved grief. Let's look at the five stages below.

  • Denial - The most familiar stage of grief that people often struggle with is denial. During the denial phase of grief, the person who has experienced the loss may deny that the loss even happened and refused to accept the reality of the event. It is normal to experience this stage because it is a coping mechanism to combat the overwhelming emotions.
  • Guilt - People who have experienced a loss may feel a form of guilt called "survivors guilt" where they blame themselves for surviving the terrible experience that they perceived caused the loss. In some cases, survivors feel that the terrible event should have happened to them instead of to their loved one.
  • Anger - During the anger stage, people become angry with who or whatever they perceive to be the source of the loss, and may fantasize about getting revenge. During this stage, guilt and anger can overlap when people begin to become angry at themselves for not preventing the events that led to the loss.
  • Depression - During the depression stage, a feeling an extreme loss and hopelessness can set in, and people lose all interest or zest for life. When people become depressed, they lose interest in activities, people, and situations that used to bring them joy.
  • Acceptance - This is the last stage of the 5 stage theory. During the acceptance stage, people who are grieving have gone through the stages of the previous forms of grief and have come to terms with their perception of the loss.

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The 7 Stages Of Grief At-A-Glance

The seven stages of grief include the same five stages that we just discussed and add two additional stages of shock and bargaining into the mix. Professionals who subscribe to the 7-stage theory believe that the two additional stages of grief need to be considered when providing diagnosis and treatment for people seeking grief therapy. A synopsis of these two additional grief stages below.

Shock - This is stage one in the seven-stage model. When a person experiences an unexpected loss, especially if that loss is tragic, their mind and body can go into a physical state of shock. When a person experiences shock they may have numbness or tingling in their extremities, feel dizzy or faint, and in severe cases they may not be able to move or speak for some time.

The lasting effects of shock can leave a person feeling mentally and physically incapacitated and interfere with everyday activities like going to work, taking care of daily responsibilities, and even taking care of yourself. Shock can last from just a few minutes to indefinitely and depends on the person who is experiencing it. Getting medical treatment and mental health therapy is recommended for someone who is experiencing the effects of shock as the result of an unexpected loss or trauma.

Bargaining - This is stage six of the seven-step grief model. During the bargaining stage of grief, people may try to make plea bargains with their high-power based on the false belief that they can reverse the negative events or circumstances that caused the loss. In the bargaining stage, people are beginning to realize that they have no control over the outcome of the situation as they prepare to enter the next stage in the grief process. Bargaining can also accompany the guilt stage of grief. This is especially true if the person who is grieving feels responsible for the loss.

In the bargaining stage, people suffer from the maladaptive belief that they can somehow go back in time and change the circumstances. This maladaptive belief usually forms as a defense mechanism against the pain of extreme loss. People who are experiencing extreme emotional or physical trauma may not be able to think clearly and feel foggy when it comes to making good decisions.

When you add these additional steps to the grief process, this is what the seven-step grief model looks like:

  1. Shock
  2. Denial
  3. Guilt
  4. Anger
  5. Depression
  6. Bargaining
  7. Acceptance

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It is important to note that the stages of grief can happen in any order. There is no time limit on the effects of grief. A person may recover from grief quickly, or suffer the pain of a loss for a lifetime. Underlying mental health factors can have an effect on how someone experiences grief. A person who gets grief therapy may develop better coping mechanisms than someone who is trying to navigate the seven stages of grief with no support.

When To Seek Help

If you find that you're still grieving for a long period after a traumatic event has occurred, and you don't seem to be making any process in reaching the stage of acceptance, it's time to reach out for professional support. While everyone does go through the stages of grief in their own time, people often get stuck between stages of grief and may need an additional push to get to the next stage.

This is the point where most people reach out to a psychiatrist, therapist, or other mental health providers to get support. Depending on the diagnosis the recommendation of talk-therapy and medication management is likely when issues with grief turn into mental health concerns like anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or bipolar disorder (BPD).

When you take part in therapy, your certified mental health provider may use popular therapy modalities like cognitive-behavioral therapy to help you feel normal again while you learn new ways to cope with your loss and managing a mental illness.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy focuses on changing maladaptive beliefs to more realistic goal-oriented beliefs and strategies that help you feel empowered. Using brain-based therapy techniques like these helps mental health clients make lasting behavioral changes as they replace negative behaviors with more suitable positive outcomes.

Who Provides Grief Therapy

Grief therapy refers to the specialized techniques that are used in assisting people whose grief reactions have got complicated. It is really important, especially when grief loss reactions are prolonged, exaggerated or distorted. Some people are trained in this therapy and are qualified to give people going through grief loss a great relief as they go through the stages of loss.

When you start looking for a grief therapist, you may ask yourself where to even begin - or who provides grief therapy. Licensed mental health professionals and grief experts are educated and trained in providing grief therapy. In the case of online platforms like BetterHelp, you'll find access to thousands of board-certified marriage and family therapists, psychologists, licensed professional counselors, and licensed professional clinical social workers. These certified professionals can provide grief therapy and related support services for clients.

Benefits Of Grief Therapy

As people naturally progress through the stages of grief without support, they may find themselves getting stuck in certain stages of the process. Going through the grief process with a licensed therapist provides a roadmap that makes it easier for progressing through the stages of grief. A critical benefit of grief therapy is support. This is especially true in the case that the loss was related to a key member of the client's support system.

Part of the grieving process is for the therapist to help clients to find a new support system, and a new way of looking at life that helps them begin to see the value, even with the recent loss. 

The therapy can help the bereaved to process and sort their feelings out. Many people grieving may not be able to open up completely among their family members because they might also be grieving. This is one of the numerous benefits of grief therapy - having a space to talk about your experiences for a period of time.

The therapy does not rush the process because it aims to support the grieving persons as they go through the stages of loss in their own way. It helps them to cope with the loss while they make the right choices and move on with life.

Get Grief Therapy Online

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Many people aren't aware that there are now affordable and easy-to-use options for getting therapy online from anywhere that you have a solid internet connection. Today's leading therapy platforms like BetterHelp.com provide grief sufferers with an alternative to in-office therapy. No need for long drives, or dragging yourself out of bed - when you feel like this is the last thing that you can do. You do not need to go through the grief and loss alone. Chat with a licensed mental health professional from the privacy and security of your home, office, or other private location.

Sessions with your therapist are conducted via a secure platform like BetterHelp.com where only you and your therapist have access to your online session notes, history, conversations, and messages. The sessions between you and your therapist are confidential, and none of the information that you discuss with your therapist will be shared without your consent.

If you're ready to seek help and support from a licensed professional online - contact a BetterHelp.com therapist today.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Does grief last forever? 

Nothing lasts forever, not even grief. Although, there is no time limit to the effects of grief on an individual. People grieve in different ways, but we all experience the stages of grief in our own way. Grief and grieving are normal emotional responses to loss varying from the death of a loved one to loss of a job or a medical report declaring you to be terminally ill or divorce, etc. News experts say that you should allow yourself to grieve in your own way and at your own pace.  

If grief loss becomes something that has refused to heal on time, you may need to find a therapist. A therapist can assist you by teaching you how to walk through the stages of loss, manage the grief loss, and give you medications to help you.

Is anger a stage of grief? 

Anger is often the next stage of grief after denial in the denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance model. Denial will make you feel that a situation is not happening or be in shock or totally avoid the reality of a loss. However, when reality begins to dawn, the pain of death and dying sets in, and the resultant effect is anger. It may be specific or diffuse. You may be angry at yourself for your inability to prevent the unfortunate occurrence, such as getting diagnosed with a terminal illness or losing a loved one, etc. You may direct it toward a higher power and question the existence of any sovereign one who allowed that situation to occur to you without intervening. The anger may also be directed to some other persons around you or the doctor or the person who broke the unpleasant news or life in general. The dead loved one may share in the anger too. This is because a grieving person could be angry at the loved one who was unable to live; hence, the pain of loneliness. 

It is necessary to find a therapist if the anger is prolonged, and you are finding it hard to control it. A therapist will guide your hands through the stages of grief loss.

What does bargaining mean in the five stages of grief? 

Bargaining is the third in the five stages of grief is that stage where people try to appeal to a higher power for that situation can be reversed. It is that stage where you say things like ‘I won’t do this or that anymore if you’d let a miracle happen and I see my mother alive’ etc. This stage is often laced with guilt. There are so many 'what-ifs,' 'if onlys’ and a desire to go back in time. It is a point where guilt washes over grieving individuals, and they may wish they had done things differently.

What does grief do to your body? 

Grief is natural. It is a natural response to a loss like the death of a loved one or the report of a terminal illness. Grief loss has nothing good to do to the body. It affects the human body in ways that extend beyond the physical symptoms. The ache in the heart is seated deep down away from reach. It makes you awful and drains you of your energy. It could also affect your sleep and disrupt your schedule for the day. A person experiencing grief goes through a lot. Let us have a quick look at some of those things grief and loss can do to your body.

Grief can lead to eating disorders, including binge eating or not wanting to eat anything in a bid to avoid the pain. It can worsen ongoing health problems and cause new ones to show by increasing inflammation. This could be so overwhelming for the immune system to deal with, and you may become susceptible to infections.

Another thing grief is capable of doing is raising the blood pressure and increasing the risk of clotting of blood in the body. All of these can lead to chronic medical illnesses that will require physicians to provide medical care.

Grief may cause depression too. It is one of the stages of grief that may be experienced. Depression is a pathology on its own, but it may become a complication of grief. Therefore, it will require a diagnosis and/or treatment.

As a result of all these negative things that grief loss can cause, it is necessary to be surrounded by friends and family in order to get through the moments. Similarly, support groups may be beneficial to speeding up the healing process. You should find a therapist who will help you walk through the emotional turmoil.

How long is a mourning period? 

Mourning is a public expression of the grief we are feeling, and there is no timetable for mourning. Although mourning period varies for different people in various cultures, there are some processes to mourning. The bereaved may accept the reality of that loss, get through the grief loss, and then adjust to living without the loved one. These processes may take a while.

Generally, individuals may start to feel better in days or weeks or months, or even years, depending on the relationship with the deceased. Heavy mourning from grief and loss of a loved one may take days, and the mourning could continue for years. The period of mourning depends on factors such as type of loss, age, personality type, support groups, belief systems, and so much more. With factors like age and type of loss, older parents with grief and bereavement (type of grief involving a loved one) due to the death of a child may never really stop mourning because the pain of loss does not go away. For personality type, people with bipolar disorder who are experiencing grief loss may likely have a longer period of mourning. Time, however, is going to help in getting out of the mourning process. As the days pass by, the sadness will fade away and happiness will begin to return.

Some other factors may help minimize the period. For example, joining a support group may help in shortening the length of the mourning period.  

What is the final stage of grief? 

The last stage of grief, as described in a book on death and dying by Psychiatrist Elizabeth Kubler-Ross is acceptance. It is that final stage where one accepts the reality of a loss or a report to be terminally ill. At acceptance, one knows that the situation cannot be changed, and life must surely continue. The sad feelings may still be often, but you have accepted to move on with life and living. Here, you find mechanisms of coping with loss. For a dying person, he or she may quickly get to the stage before the friends and family come to terms with acceptance.

It does not mean that people feel alright or perfect about the loss or the expected loss but they begin to see how the reality will change their lives. This means that concerned parties begin to recognize that roles will change and they must begin to accept responsibilities. In all, acceptance is never equal to forgetfulness. It does not mean pretense. It only means that the people involved are choosing to embrace the reality while reminiscing on the good times before the grief and loss. 

Acceptance is more like hoping for the best and moving past the worst. Grief can return briefly at certain points such as anniversaries, family parties, a loved one's favorite song is played, etc. 

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