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Grief…one word, five letters, and a hundred different emotions. When I first became a counselor there were certain topics that intimidated me…grief was definitely one of them.
Grief is so complex….how do we help someone see the light when they feel surrounded by darkness?? How do we help individuals struggling with survivals guilt?? How do we help individuals who have lost their support system??
Now take all of that and think about how to handle grief in children. How do we help children with this concept of death?? How do we help children feel safe again?? How do we help children define these new emotions and learn to cope in a positive way??
So yes I had a ton of insecurities about counseling grief in children….and I don’t think I’m the only counselor who struggles with that insecurity.
Well this year I was forced to get over that insecurity. On the first day of school a student approached me and told me about the loss of her brother. A few weeks later I got a phone call about an accident involving one of our student’s parents. At first I tried to do the typical grief activities…but I just felt like it wasn’t reaching them the way I wanted. I assumed it was my lack of experience with grief and reached out to some community resources. I reached out to a local grief counselor who met with our students…but after a few weeks I realized that wasn’t working either.
So I started reading…and reading…and reading some more. After all of my reading, I came to the conclusion that a grief group was the answer. I always knew grief groups were powerful but leading a grief group?? I’m supposed to help multiple children with grief at the same time!?!?!? AH!!! Okay…okay…have your little freak out moment and then you’re just gonna have to build a bridge and get over it!! Because at the end of the day…a grief group is exactly what kids need. They need to grieve together and learn that they’re not alone in their struggles. Children feel isolated in their grief. Their friends don’t understand grief and their parents are in too much pain to talk about the loss…so they’re left alone in their struggles.
So as a counselor…where do you start??
Step one…start with selecting individuals. Do you have enough students for a grief group?? What age do you want?? Do you want it to be just boys?? just girls?? both both and girls?? Do you want the loss to be recent (within the past year or two)?? Does the loss have to be within the immediate family or extended family/friends?
If you can’t come up with enough students for your group, then ask the teachers if they can think of any other students.
For my group the only requirement I had was that the loss had to be within the immediate family. I had a few 6th graders, a few 7th graders, and a few 8th graders. Half of my group had experienced loss within the past 6 months, the other half had experienced loss 3-7 years ago. I didn’t have a requirement on gender, but it ended up being just girls.
Step two…determine a time to meet. I prefer either after school or the last period of the day. This allows students to go home after group and process what we discussed.
Step three…come up with a name. I called our group “The Roller Coasters Group” because grief can be like a roller coaster. It can go up and down, it can go for loops and turns, and it can be a complete mess sometimes.
Step four…start planning. Groups require lots of planning…so get started!! But don’t spend 4 weeks planning…get a few good ideas and then just go with it!! I’ll be posting all of my resources/activities here on the blog…so check back for updates.
Step five…create a self-care plan for yourself. Running a grief group can be emotionally exhausting…so make a plan now before you start your group. For a free list of positive coping strategies click here.
Step six…send your invites and parent permission forms.
Step seven…just dive in!!
My group lasted about 15 weeks…and it was probably one of the most impactful things I’ve done as a counselor. I LOVED it!! Every week I looked forward to it!! Yes…I looked forward to grief group!! Someone came to observe my grief group once and at the end they asked how I didn’t cry listening to their stories. My response “I’m on fire right now!! You have no idea how excited I am!!! Cry…no…I want to jump for joy!!! Because during every session I can see growth…I can see counseling working!! I can see them connecting, growing, and moving forward!! It’s amazing!!!”
To read more about my grief group click here.
Update November 2020: Unfortunately I no longer blog about my counseling adventures/experiences. However, I know these posts are a huge resource to others so I’ve kept all of my old counseling posts on this page for your use. Enjoy!!