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Working With Bereaved Parents in Counseling

[1]If you are a human service professional, it is inevitable that at some point a problem that clients will report is unresolved grief issues. The death of their child may likely be an issue one or more of your clients may face.  Working with a parent who is facing a child’s death can present unique challenges for a human service professional on two levels.

First, from a personal standpoint, a human service professional who is also a mother or father will find themselves confronted with a parent’s worse nightmare. If this is not acknowledged by the professional (through supervision), he/she will not be able to be objective when working with parents and families affected by this loss.

Second, from a professional standpoint, conventional interventions (such as stage theory and solution-focused therapy) designed to deal with grief and loss are often not effective because the death of a child defies what we see as the natural order of the universe.

I have been employed as an addictions counselor for over 26 years and have been involved in the human services field for well over 30 years. I am a Licensed Master Social Worker and a Credentialed Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Counselor.  I am also a parent who has experienced the death of a child. My daughter Jeannine died on March 1, 2003 at the age of 18 due to cancer.

After Jeannine’s death, I soon discovered that my previous education and experience in the human service field were not going to help me address my current situation.  Jeannine’s death forced me to re-examine my personal and professional values and modify them to fit my new reality. As a result of my struggle, I believe that I have become a more well rounded and service oriented individual, and a better therapist as well.

I want to share some suggestions with other professionals who may be reading this article.  You may find that some of these ideas will help you to become more successful in working with parents who have experienced the death of a child:

It is also extremely important that we develop our own unique self-care program. Though I have found that facilitating grief work with bereaved parents and other bereaved individuals has been extremely fulfilling, it can also be emotionally draining as well.  I know that it becomes draining for me when I am attending to many powerful stories at once and/or my own issues with Jeannine’s death are impacting my ability to be a grief companion. When either or both of those conditions exist, that is my cue to back off and do something that will recharge my batteries. As my good friend and fellow bereaved parent, Mitch Carmody (www.heartlightstudios.net [2]) has often said: “If our cups are not filled, we can not fill anybody else’s cup.”

David J. Roberts became a bereaved parent after his daughter Jeannine died of cancer at the age of 18.  You can read more of his work here:  www.bootsyandangel.com [3]

Photo credit. [4]