In terms of time commitment, it’s a very small part of what you do. You put a lot of effort into learning it, and then it might be a few years before you actually put it into practice. Then, you get that email, or phone call, or note in your box: ”This student just lost a parent/sibling.” You do some follow-up, then clear your schedule for the next few hours. You’re about to do some grief/crisis counseling in heavy doses for the immediate future.
I have very recently needed to help a student who just lost a parent in a very sudden and tragic way. Even with all the training I’ve had (or maybe because of it), I had to be reminded of a few things. For one, I can’t ‘fix’ anything. I can’t even make it feel better. I’m there to hang out. Listen. Affirm. Reflect. Reassure. Offer resources, and perhaps most importantly, be that link between the numbness of grief and the sense of normalcy that seems nowhere to be found. A safe place.
To be sure, I’m a better grief counselor for the resources and training I’ve had. Specifically, the numerous sessions I’ve spent with Cheri Lovre have been invaluable to how I approach a traumatic situation with a student. And we’ve received some very helpful grief counseling resources from our local hospice organization. Theoretically, my goal is to help kids understand stages of grief and give words to what they are feeling inside. But because every situation is different, and every child handles the grief process a little differently, I don’t follow a clear action plan for times like this. I don’t have an ASCA domain, standard, and competency to work with, except for the very broad category of ‘Responsive Services.’ I’m trying to guide a child through something that I don’t fully comprehend myself. Really, it’s one of the few times in my job when I have to just respond to the situation in front of me, and pray to God that the sum total of my training and experience is enough to get us both through it.
A few thoughts concerning grief counseling in general:
- Delayed outward signs of grief aren’t unusual in kids, even up to six months or so. You might be working with this student and family a year after the incident. You really can’t hurry along the process, you can just help it to happen in a healthy manner and safe environment.
- Depending on the age of the student, they may not be at a developmental level to give words to the intense feelings they have inside.
- Long moments of silence are ok, and can be beneficial. I try not to force something to say just for the sake of keeping a conversation going.
- There is no one-size-fits-all approach.
- Your own issues surrounding grief and loss
maywill surface during this time. Be aware of them. (I know that you know that; I just wanted you to know that I know that.)
- Keep in touch with your circle of counselors about the situation. This is a good time for collaboration, something I’m learning the value of more in general each year that I do this gig.
- Keep in touch with the parents and communicate progress about their child. Be prepared to refer the family to a private or community-based counselor who specializes in grief/loss issues if you believe that the child is at a point where you can no longer help them.
It’s quite a journey we’re making together.