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As we begin to talk about grief I want to emphasize one thing: never underestimate the power of reflection and the power of silence. As counselors we’re taught a hundred different techniques. We’re trained in special theories and we feel like to be the best counselor we have to use these higher level techniques.
Grief is very different though. Whenever people talk about death/grief you frequently hear people say “well I don’t know what to say to them??” The reality is nothing you say is going to make it better. There is no magical statement. Stop looking for one because it doesn’t exist!! So what do you do?? How do you comfort a friend struggling with the loss of a child?? How do you comfort your spouse dealing with the loss of a parent?? How do you counsel clients who are grieving the loss of a loved one??
The answer…you listen, you reflect, and you remain silent.
Let’s talk about the power of reflection and silence a little bit more.
A few weeks ago I asked one of my kiddos “What do you enjoy about counseling?” and they responded “I like that thing you do where I tell you everything and then you say it back to me in a different way. That’s why I keep coming to meet with you.” I was shocked!! Completely and totally shocked!! I wanted to say “Are you serious??? That’s it?? You want me to reflect??? What about all these special art therapy techniques I’ve been using?? What about that new CBT activity we’ve been practicing?? I didn’t need any of that?? You just want me to reflect??? AAAAHHHH!!!!!” Now I should say I firmly believe the higher level techniques are important and led to my clients growth but it was a major wake up call about the power of reflection!! Such a simple and easy technique that I had forgotten about. Not that I had forgotten how to reflect (clearly I was reflecting). No it was more that I had forgotten how powerful reflecting can be for our clients!!
Reflecting lets our clients know that they’ve been heard, it gives them words to describe their feelings, and let’s them know that someone understands them. This simple “low level” technique is so powerful to someone who is grieving. It helps them process their web of emotions and helps them organize their thoughts.
When you talk to someone who is grieving it may feel awkward to just reflect. You may feel like reflecting is “obvious” or “leads to an awkward silence”. The truth is talking about death and grief is awkward and it does lead to an awkward silence…but it’s only awkward for you. If the other person is talking about it then that means they’re ready to talk and they need you to listen. Remember to listen, reflect, and when that awkward silence comes…just let it be because now comes the power of silence.
So what is this power of silence concept?? In college you probably read about the power of silence but have you tried it yet?? Have you challenged yourself as a counselor and learned that silence is a powerful tool??
If you aren’t familiar with the power of silence, then I challenge you to try it this week!! Right after you’ve reflected or brought up a challenging concept with a client…just be silent. And when you want to end the silence…wait just a little bit longer and see what happens.
Silence can feel awkward but again it’s only awkward for you. Silence allows a grieving person to think about the situation and process things. The first phase of grief is shock and shocked people need time to think and process everything. So while the silence may be driving you crazy, remember the silence is giving the other person time to process and think about everything.
The power of reflection and the power of silence…two simple tools that can work wonders in your counseling practice. Even if you aren’t doing grief counseling, I challenge you to focus on these two concepts this week. Go back to the basics for a bit and see what happens.
And for those of you who are intimidated by grief counseling…grief will walk into your office when you least expect it. You’ll be sitting there wishing that you’d paid more attention in college and that you’d gotten a large coffee at starbucks that morning. Don’t worry though because all you need to do is listen, reflect, and be silent.
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!!