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

Updated August 18, 2021


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.
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.

Grieving: 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.

The 5 Stages Of Grief: Understanding the Grieving Process

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.

Woman experiencing a stage of grief

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The 7 Stages Of Grief At-A-Glance

What are the 7 stages of grief compared to the 5 stages of grief? 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.

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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

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.

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