Whenever I do a search to find a professional counselor, the listed specialties of the counselor will seemingly invariably indicate that they “work with grieving clients”. It is true that most of our clients walk in the door carrying grief — whether it be sorrow from the death of a loved one or a loss from a difficult transition in life. But what makes a counselor truly competent in providing “grief counseling”?
Over the years, counselors believed that grief counseling was simply a matter of being a good listener and providing grief education. Often this education included referencing older models on grieving such as ‘Stages of Grief’ by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross. If the grief lasted “too long”, then the counselor would begin to diagnosis “Major Depression” or even “Complicated Grief” — and then treat it as such. Unfortunately, this method of therapy cannot be considered helpful “Grief Counseling”, and it can even be a disservice to the grieving client and provide inaccurate information. As every good counselor works to become competent in his or her area of expertise, the same is true of a counselor who wants to help the bereaved.
How can professionals best help bereaved clients?
- – Become educated in the current information from the field of Thanatology. The Association of Death Education and Counseling (ADEC) is a great place to learn about current grief research, articles and theories. After going through ADEC’s rigorous academic program, professionals can be Certified in Thanatology (CT) or become a Fellow in Thanatology (FT).
- – Learn about the differences between grieving styles of children, teens and adults. Understand what is considered “normal grief” as opposed to “depression”. The National Alliance for Grieving Children is an excellent resource for professionals to learn more about children and teen grief.
- – Become culturally competent in understanding how different culture groups process grief and how they view death and mourning rituals.
Stay current in grief therapy research and techniques to best support the bereaved. Some of the leading researchers in these areas include Dr. Robert Neimeyer, Dr. William Worden, Dr. Ken Doka and Dr. Katherine Shear. Check out some of their works on our resources page.
Before you help a grieving client, make sure you are ready — do your research, attend seminars on grieving, or read up on the latest grief research and techniques. Not every counselor should provide grief counseling — know your limits and refer clients to a certified grief counselor if needed. Or…work to become certified yourself!