pen, hand written letter, flowers

What is grief?

Grief is a strong emotional response that people who have experienced loss suffer constantly from its associated negative effects. Anyone can experience grief at any point in their life and that is why it is important to understand grief before it worsens into other mental health problems like severe depression or addiction. Typically, everyone processes grief differently but they usually undergo the Kübler-Ross stages of grief, by experiencing some of the following defense mechanisms: denial, anger, bargaining, and depression, until they finally end on acceptance.

Overall, a person who is grieving may have great difficulty processing their loss and will respond with negative feelings to deny their loss like anger, guilt, and depression until they eventually learn to accept the unbearable loss of their loved ones. However, if they avoid the grieving process for too long, normal grief can develop into complex grief that can severely impact someone’s mental health.

This is why persistent feelings of grief that extend longer than a few months should be seriously addressed in order to heal from the experience of loss. Moreover, there are a few people who can have a more difficult time comprehending the concept of grief, whether as a result of age or other means. Some people will require assistance processing loss and their mental health might benefit from therapy to properly overcome their struggles with grief.

How does grief impact your mental health?

The effects of grief can be strong enough to influence everything in a person’s life. Your performance in daily activities such as school or work may be impacted as a result of experiencing the negative and stressful effects of grief. Moreover, your thoughts and actions may reflect heavily on your memories of your loved ones as you attempt to process grief. Despite losing a loved one, they could still be remembered through their favorite items and activities, symbolizing their past existence.

Their memories and experiences can still be present in our lives, from a favorite restaurant, holidays, and even simple activities such as a long walk. Depending on your perspective while re-engaging in these activities, it can vary from being negative about your loss while living in the past, to positive acceptance and moving forward while commemorating the dead.

Through this challenging period in life, your mental health is the most vulnerable and requires more effort to maintain than usual. You may struggle with emotional memories and attempt to throw certain belongings and mementos out. Disregarding the loss of a loved one can inhibit your emotional growth and delay the acceptance of their passing. Moreover, you may avoid certain people because of their connections with the deceased.

All of this can lead to negative impacts on your social relationships with your family, colleagues, and friends. Ultimately, the experience of grief can negatively impact someone’s mental health in multiple ways and requires constant attention to heal from it properly.

notebook, paint, paintbrush

How can art therapy help resolve grief?

The implementation of art therapy can be employed to process loss in a progressively healthy way. Through the thoughtful collection of personal belongings that invoke certain memories of the deceased, you can creatively make a display of your loved one as a form of expressing your acceptance of their passing.

Moreover, some cultures place these shrines as a way to show respect to their ancestors and to celebrate what they represent. The placement and arrangement of these items can have as much significance as you believe is necessary to properly resolve their feelings of grief.

Commemorating the deceased by creating a personal shrine can be a proactive artistic activity that reminds the person grieving of the positive experiences they had in their lives. However, there can be more personal therapeutic activities available to those mourning, activities that symbolize their loved one can relieve the negative thoughts of grief and introduce emotions of joy.

These prosocial and proactive activities can range from anything the grieving person can imagine is useful, from activities that personally remind them of their loss, to volunteering that provides fulfilling feelings of self-actualization. However you decide to reflect on your loss, whether through art, therapy, or a personalized activity, it is crucial that you take the necessary time to process your feelings of grief properly and take care of your mental health.

To better understand how can art therapy help you with your grief, please contact us at or at 514-999-3414. You can also visit our team of professionals at Montreal Art Therapy Centre to read about our Montreal art therapists’ experiences and trainings.

Author: A.J. Salucci


Wang, R., Wang, Y. (2021). Using the Kübler-Ross Model of Grief with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): An Analysis of Manchester by the Sea, Metathesis:  Journal of English language literature and teaching, 5(1), 79–92. DOI: 10.31002/metathesis.v5i1.3700

Whitaker, P., McHugh, C. (2022). Making Arrangements: The Curation of Grief in the Home Studio (Faire les arrangements : la conservation du deuil dans le studio à domicile), Canadian Journal of Art Therapy, 35(1), 32–42. DOI: 10.1080/26907240.2021.1976368