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Oct 08, 2013

Learning about the Grief Process

If you read one of my previous blogs, “Lessons from two FCA leaders”, you learned that I had never considered all the benefits of being an active member of the Florida Counseling Association (FCA) until both the current and former president highlighted them in a presentation at my school. This weekend I attended my first FCA conference. Attending the conference, provided me with many benefits such as gaining inspiration from exemplary leaders in the counseling field like Mr. Richard Yepp, ACA Executive Director; connecting with counseling students from different schools in Florida; improving my motivation to research subjects of my interest; and above all, learning and acquiring new interests.

The session I was most impressed by was titled “Infusing Grief and Loss into Mental Health Counseling” by Bev Mustaine, Associate Professor at Argosy University. She utilized the definition of a loss by the National Organization for Victim Assistance (2009), which define them as the “Termination of the attachment to a person, object, status, or relationship”. While I volunteer for my local crisis center where many callers talk about their losses and grieving process, I always thought that once I have helped someone deal and "overcome" a loss, the grieving process was complete. Conversely, the opposite was true. Despite individuals get through a loss, they may never overcome one.

A specific loss may have to be dealt throughout people's lives at different times turning it into a new loss. For instance, a woman losing her dad will grieve at the time of the loss and later, at the time of her wedding, if she wished her dad was there to walk her down the aisle. Therefore, it is important that individuals don’t consider themselves weak for having to deal with a loss several times because this is a normal process.

In doing grief work, it is important that both clients and counselors understand that a big part of grief work is psychoeducational. Therefore, clients must be familiar with the grieving process and counselors should help normalizing it. As in all types of counseling, for counselors to be efficient, they must have dealt with all positive and negative aspects of all their losses. Although not all losses are the same, a small one may feel bigger than it is, as when we grieve a current loss, we also do previous ones.

Losses are especially difficult when previous ones stay unresolved or denied. Hence, the first step in the grieving process is for the counselor to help the client recognize that a loss has occurred. Next, the counselor should meet the clients where they are emotionally and help them process their emotions. It is important that clients feel in a safe environment in which they are able to go at their own pace, taking breaks as they wish to, in order to convert losses into memories - step 3. Finally, losses become part of the clients’ identities. For instance, if a mother lost a child to a drunk driver, the mother may become an advocate of informing the danger of driving while intoxicated.

As we can see, grieving a loss is a more complex phenomenon than people think. Unfortunately, we all go through losses, thus this information on loss and grief is guaranteed to be useful for any current or counselors in training education. Up until now, grief hadn’t been part of my interest. However, as a consequence of attending this session I now see the importance of it and consider it essential to learn about the subject in order to help myself and others go through it. After all, as counselors and clients, we will all say goodbye including at the end of the therapeutic relationship.
Alejandra Delgado is a counselor-in-training at the University of Florida. She volunteers as a Crisis Line Counselor and works as the School-Based Program Specialist at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Mid-Florida.  

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