Sunday, May 19, 2013

#ESCchat #5: Supporting Students Coping with Grief & Loss

Last week's chat was an engaging discussion on many aspects of student grief & loss. As always, here is the storify transcript for the whole chat, and a summary of the questions and answers are below. 
==>Q1: In what ways might a student display signs of dealing with grief & loss?
  • Students may be withdrawn, may stop doing the things they used to like to do, their grades might suffer, outward signs of sadness.
  • Outburst of anger, short temper, or sometimes a complete personality change are ways kids express grief
  • Also, emotional outbursts and acting out behavior. Immature behavior (needing to be held, etc).
  • All signs of depression could come up, not wanting to show up to school, somatization difficulties as well.
  • Tired, withdrawn, angry.
  • Attendance - not wanting to come to school, not engaging with friends, clinging to family.
  • Student running away and hiding out in the building.

==>Q2: Aside from death of a loved one, what else could a student lose that may cause grief? 

  • Friends moving away, fights that end friendships, break ups with a bf or gf.
  • Divorce, family separation, losing a home, doesn't have to be about death!
  • Another form of loss... Personal health, limb...
  • Losing an identity. I've seen this with middle/high schoolers grieving who they thought they were.
  • Parent going to jail. Even a parent that travels for long period with work.
  • Parent getting deployed was hard.
  • I've had students grieve lost stuffed animals! It's still real, still grief!
  • I think children grow a strong connection with pets and certainly the loss of a friend/peer.
  • School closings! Chicago, Philly, other cities dealing w this kind of loss.
  • Student teacher leaving mid year or teacher leaving for maternity leave or long term illness.

==>Q3: In 1:1 school counseling sessions, what are some techniques/activities you would use to help these students?

  • Start with normalizing the grief. Letting the child know that it is normal to have these feelings, and it's ok to express them.
  • Empty chair technique-talking to that person as if they were in the seat across from them or writing a letter they never send.
  • NASP had a great quote- "Allow children to teach you about their own grief experiences." Each kid understands death differently.
  • Or even a letter to the family expressing how much the person meant to them. Taking action is good mourning.
  • "When Dinosaurs Die" is a helpful book to help elem students understand the concept of death. Get parent permission first!
  • I encourage them to talk to their parents and go back to what they believe related to their religion.
  • I used to have students write letters, tie to a balloon and have ceremony to let them go. 
  • I've had kids in a class create a banner, and we've planted living memorials as well.
==>Q4: What might you say to other students who express concern for their grieving friend?
  • You just have to be there to listen empathetically for support. Just being there through difficult times helps a great deal!
  • I make sure to praise friends for concern & ask them to keep school "as normal as possible" for the student-- usually helpful.
  • Everyone grieves differently and help them understand they may not share sadness and grief in the same way as their friend.
  • Keep an eye out for vicarious trauma-- if one student is very close to a grieving student, the friend may experience grief too.
==>Q5: Grief & loss small counseling groups: What potential difficulties do we need to consider in creating/running this group?
  • The biggest difficulty with grief groups is the type of loss. Suicide vs. loss from other types of death often separate groups.
  • May be difficulty in defining "loss" if death is still abstract. Also, differences in religious beliefs may come into play?
  • Stage of grief will be different and the amount of time that has passed.
  • There would be positives to running a G/L small group, too. I have not yet done this. I'd try a pair counseling experience first.
  • Sometimes you have to separate kids out for individual counseling instead if some of those issues come up.
  • I think the type of loss between students can be a challenge with groups.
==>Q6: As schcounselors, we're not therapists. Where do we draw the line in how much support to give these students? When to refer?
  • I personally struggle with this because I was a therapist before I was a school counselor.
  • I always give P's referral information regardless, but if it's a close relationship & S really struggling, def. referral.
  • Our school groups are generally short lived, 6 / 8 weeks. If it's turning into depression they need more.
  • Much overlap! I'm a trained therapist too. I frame schoolcounseling "brief therapy". If interfering w/ academics I refer.
  • Always good to have constant open convo with parents, esp in this situation. Therapy is less stigmatized with G&L.
  • I'm still surprised to see S's who never get therapy, even after a parent died. That really causes long term difficulties.
  • It certainly can, but some students surprise me with their resiliency!
==>Q7: In what ways could you offer support to the student’s family?
  • Main support could be connecting them with community resources. Counseling resources, school social worker, anything they need.
  • Find grief/loss resources in your community before you need them! That way you have connections on the ready! 
  • Activities, referral information, what to look for, listening to their concerns.
  • Let parents/families know you are there and can be a resource for facilitating services.
  • Communicate ASAP, offer support in any way. Our school has donated books in memory of students' family members, sent cards, etc.
  • We've helped families with funeral arrangements as well, through community groups such as the Lions Club, etc..
==>Q8: If we are informed that a student will experience loss in the near future, how can we be proactive in helping?
  • Making sure a relationship is established.
  • We can be there to give them ongoing counseling related to the coming loss. Also be there as a support for the family.
  • Relationship is key! Letting students know you are there!
  • True, when I'm an outside counselor coming in, it's harder as the S's don't know me, as compared when I know a S.
  • Relationships are crucial in every aspect of our field! What an important reminder message to end on! 

1 comment:

  1. I've had long term counseling for many years. The relationship with the therapist is so critical.