Experiencing loss can have a long-term effect on a person, especially if that loss is deeply personal, such as the loss of a loved one. Grief counseling thus exists to ease a person through the grief process, which is never the same for anyone. According to Jane V. Bissler, the stages of grief have been "borrowed" from the five stages of dying, yet these are not the same at all and thinking so is incorrect. Whereas with dying, a person goes through denial, anger, compromise, depression and acceptance, the stages of grief are not an exact number, or in a specific order, and will depend on what the loss consisted of. For example, some people go through anger and others through depression and some go through both. Thus, the grief process cannot be generalized. This paper will develop on the topic of grief counseling to better explain how to help those who are experiencing grief, be it in a family situation, with the loss of a child or the loss of a parent, or otherwise, and will end by reviewing psychology literature on this topic. [1: Bissler, J. (2009). "Five Stages of Grief: Myth or Consequence?" Counseling for Loss and Life Changes, Inc. Retrieved April 14, 2011, from . ]
To begin, grief counseling is a form of therapy, with a focus on helping an individual grieve and address personal loss in a healthy manner. This type of counseling is offered by psychologists, counselors, social workers, and even clergy members or support groups, whether led by a professional or by a community leader. In other words, there are many ways in which to help address grief in a healthy way. The tasks of grief counseling are to help an individual express emotional loss, accept the loss, adjust to life after loss and cope with all these changes. [2: Anonymous. (2011). "Grief counseling: Definition." Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders. Retrieved April 14, 2011, from .]
This therapy also helps with feelings such as sadness, anxiety, anger, loneliness, guilt, relief, isolation, confusion and numbness, all of which can be experienced after a loss. According to the mind disorder encyclopedia, behavioral changes such as being disorganized, feeling tired, inability to concentrate, sleeplessness, changes in appetite, vivid dreams and day dreaming, are also experienced by the person grieving. Such an overwhelming emotional and behavioral change needs some guidance, so it is recommended that grief counseling be considered by those affected by these emotions. [3: Anonymous. (2011). "Grief counseling: Definition." Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders. Retrieved April 14, 2011, from . ]
Grief counseling is thus a very useful therapeutic tool. It not only helps the individual work through the many feelings associated with the loss of a loved one, but also provides a medium for the individual to understand the normal grieving process and the normality of many of the experiences that he or she is experiencing. The counseling process, again, varies for everyone. Some individuals express deep physical and psychological pain, and many need help getting back to daily routine, while others only experience numbness.
If an individual feels overwhelmed by the loss, it is the psychologist's duty to find specific coping mechanisms to help that individual resume normal life in his or her daily routine. If a person's sleep is disrupted, for example, a counselor may include that individual's physician in the session to assist with increasing sleep. As with any counseling, the outcomes may be successful or unsuccessful. Those who have success can return to a normal life, while others continue to experience the prolonged grief with which they began. [4: Anonymous. (2011). "Grief counseling: Definition." Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders. Retrieved April 14, 2011, from . ]
As mentioned above, however, there are many support groups for those grieving. For example, the website griefnet.org, is an internet community of persons dealing with "grief, death, and major loss." This community claims to have over 50 e-mail support groups, and aims to provide grief support to both children and adults. The website is headed by a doctor who is a clinical psychologist and traumatologist located in Michigan, and is seen as a non-profit.
Another website aimed at helping people cope with grief is compassionatefriend.org, which focuses on grief support after the death of a child. The motto of this site is to transform the "pain of grief into the elixir of hope." The website and its 625 in 50 states exist to help those going through the grieving process after the loss of a child by providing friendship and understanding.
This website also has a letter to the New Bereaved, which can be found on its front page. Before even starting therapy, one can read through this and feel a sense of understanding, and perhaps, not feel so alone. The letter expresses understanding by acknowledging potential feelings that a parents, grandparent or sibling could have, such as that "meaning has been drained" from life, that it could be difficult to lead a normal life and that it does not seem like things will ever feel better. The website also offers compassionate advice by expressing that all its members have been under the potency of emotions experienced when losing a child. Furthermore, it includes a long list of "thoughts" that a parent might be experiencing. This list comprises:
"Thoughts of suicide briefly enter your mind. You tell yourself you want to die -- and yet you want to live to take care of your family and honor your child's memory,"
"You yearn to have five minutes, an hour, a day back with your child so you can tell your child of your love or thoughts left unsaid." [5: Compassionate Friends. (2011). "To the Newly Bereaved." The Compassionate Friends. Retrieved April 14, 2011, from < http://www.compassionatefriends.org/about_us/To_the_Newly_Bereaved.aspx>. ]
This section of the letter is important, because it will make the bereaved feel understood and part of a community that can help him or her recover from the loss and proceed forward with life.
As seen from these quotations, the loss of a child can be especially traumatic for close family. The case described below also deals with this loss, but it is from the point-of-view of an elementary school teacher. This case is written by Patricia Witt, a principal in Georgia, about mentoring Jodi Clark, an assistant principal, so that Clark may become the new principal. Clark, who has 10 years of experience in the classroom has just experienced the death of one of her students, and was deeply affected by this event, even though the victim was not her biological child.
Witt states that she was initially unprepared to console Clark on this matter for she had not training, but that she nevertheless spent time letting Clark just cry over the loss of this child. She continues to realize that, in fact, by crying and talking both women took time to grieve and speak "through the shock of having an event like this occur." Then, the two women started focusing on the community, and what it could do to help ease the pain of the father, a faculty member, who had just lost his only child. The two women also wanted to help the students, the other teachers, and the parents grieve. Thus, they decided to call each family personally and let them know what had happened so that they may help console the father of the child in their own way. [6: Witt, P. & Clark, J. (2010). "Losing a Child, Healing a Community." Principal Magazine 58(1). ]
However, the death of a child, whether it affects the parents, a school, or a whole community, is devastating, perhaps just as saddening is the death of a parent. For a child, this can be a traumatic event that can shape his or her life forever. The Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology includes a study on the long-term effects of the family bereavement program for parentally bereaved children and adolescents. As part of this study, a randomized trial of the effects of the Family Bereavement Program (FBP), was analyzed. This program measures grief experienced by children and adolescents alike over a six-year period. The method the trial employed was selecting 244 participants from ages 8 to 16, taken from 156 families that had experienced the death of a parent. This sample consisted, according to the study, of 53% boys and 47% girls, 67% non-Hispanic White and 33% ethnic minority participants.
The families were also randomly assigned to one of two conditions: FBP (N=135) or a literature control condition (N=109). Two grief measures were also utilized: the Texas Revised Inventory Grief (TRIG) and the Intrusive Grief Thoughts Scale (IGTS). The TRIG utilizes a 21-item scale to measure "the extent of unresolved or pathological grief." It relates to two points of time, past and present, and is comprised of two subscales. The first 8-item subscale measures "feelings and actions at the time of death," and the second, 13-item subscale, measures present feelings such as "continual emotional…