Interventions to address grief symptoms

The Bottom Line

  • Grief has an impact on a person's physical, cognitive, behavioral, interpersonal, emotional and spiritual aspects.
  • To overcome grief, people go through various stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. They need social support and re-evaluate their life goals.
  • Several interventions can help the bereaved cope with the death of a loved one, including cognitive-behavioral therapy, family therapy, psychotherapy, art therapy and pharmacotherapy. 

Grief is a universal experience that affects everyone at some point in their lives. As we age, grief accumulates, whether it's the death of a life partner, relatives or friends.

Symptoms of grief can include profound sadness, anxiety, anger, confusion, a sense of emptiness and a loss of interest in daily activities. These emotions can be exacerbated by loneliness, social isolation and health problems. 

The majority of bereaved people come to terms with the loss and move on. However, some people (up to 1 in 5) experience great distress that does not go away despite the passage of time, especially if the death occurred violently or in a traumatic context such as a pandemic. 

How can we help these people who are unable to grieve? 

What the research tells us

A recent evidence synthesis identified 16 systematic reviews of interventions to alleviate bereavement symptoms.(1) These studies identified 19 types of intervention. These interventions were classified according to two broad approaches, those based on theory and those based on technique.

Approaches based on psychological theories

These approaches include cognitive-behavioral therapy, family therapy, pharmacotherapy, psychotherapy, as well as art and music therapy. Whether in one-on-one meetings with a therapist or in support groups, it's always good to be able to talk about what you're feeling, and to go through the various stages of grief in a safe, comforting environment. This helps to reduce some of the symptoms of grief, such as anger, guilt, despair and sadness. The interventions that seem to work best are those that help develop self-regulation strategies, promoting optimism and avoiding negative thoughts.

Approaches not based on psychological theories

These approaches go beyond the conventional framework of therapy, targeting the psychosocial dimension of grief and not just psychological problems. 

Results show that participation in support groups, home visits, follow-up calls, peer support and reminiscence help reduce isolation and bereavement symptoms, as well as increasing well-being. Physical activities such as walking, yoga and cycling, as well as massage, help to release emotions and regain a sense of freedom. 

Other interventions examined in this category, such as receiving letters of condolence or phone calls from friends, did not show clear results in terms of effectiveness in reducing grief symptoms.

Are you grieving?

Here are some tips and resources to help you:

- Seek emotional support from loved ones to ease your pain.

- Join bereavement support groups. Sharing similar experiences helps reduce isolation and fosters a sense of community.

- Get support from a therapist or mental health professional to learn how to deal with grief constructively.

- Maintain social ties, participate in social activities or community events to regain a sense of normalcy and feel surrounded.

- Express yourself artistically to release your emotions creatively. 

- Mindfulness meditation can reduce anxiety and promote a sense of inner calm.

Get the latest content first. Sign up for free weekly email alerts.
Author Details


  1. Asgari Z, Naghavi A, Reza Abedi  Grief Interventions: A qualitative review of systematic reviews, Journal of Loss and Trauma, 2023, 28:3, 235-251, DOI: 10.1080/15325024.2022.2102304

DISCLAIMER: These summaries are provided for informational purposes only. They are not a substitute for advice from your own health care professional. The summaries may be reproduced for not-for-profit educational purposes only. Any other uses must be approved by the McMaster Optimal Aging Portal (

Many of our Blog Posts were written before the COVID-19 pandemic and thus do not necessarily reflect the latest public health recommendations. While the content of new and old blogs identify activities that support optimal aging, it is important to defer to the most current public health recommendations. Some of the activities suggested within these blogs may need to be modified or avoided altogether to comply with changing public health recommendations. To view the latest updates from the Public Health Agency of Canada, please visit their website.