Grief Support – Do You Need Counseling, Therapy, Or a Support Group?

Ever since four loved ones died in 2007 my friends have supported me. Their comments have been helpful. “You look better,” a friend said. “Your sense of humor is back,” another commented. I have benefited from my friends’ feedback and caring.

But I have also received advice from people I barely know and strangers. One common piece of advice, “Stay busy,” not the healthiest approach to grief reconciliation. These people have my well-being at heart, but they do not know me, and are not counselors. I decided to research grief support on my own.

Many certified grief counselors base their treatment on the stages of grief defined by Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. Others use different approaches. “There are constantly changing theories regarding grief an loss,” notes “Grief Counseling and Therapy,” an article on the Death Reference website. The article cites a book by William J. Worden, PhD, “Grief Counseling and Therapy.” A grief clinician and researcher, Worden says there is a difference between counseling and therapy.

Counseling is appropriate for those who have normal, uncomplicated grief, according to Worden, whereas therapy is appropriate for those who have complicated or prolonged grief, behavioral problems, or an exaggerated response.

Dr. Alan Wolfelt writes about grief support in a “Grief Digest” article, “How to Know if You Need Professional Help.” Good grief can turn bad, Wolfelt points out, and once it “strays off course, the work of mourning can go on and on without the grieving person ever reaching reconciliation.”

Counseling is available from hospices, medical doctors, referral centers, and hospitals. Before you sign up, however, you need to do your homework. Ask about the person’s credentials, specialized, training, experience, and counseling approach, Wolfelt advises. The cost of ongoing counseling can add up quickly, so I would also ask about fees.

The Association for Death Education and Counseling (ADEC) and American Academy of Grief Counseling (AAGC) may also help you find the support you need. According to the ADEC website, most members are counselors and death educators, though it includes grief writers like me. While ADEC does not verify the credentials, background, or qualifications of its members, it offers courses for those who wish to become Certified Thanotologists — a professional who specializes in grief education, dying, death, and bereavement.

The American Academy of Grief Counseling is comprised of doctors, nurses, counselors, social workers, funeral directors, clergy and other professionals. Its two-tiered program begins with a minimum of 100 hours of lecture and study in the field, and continues with Fellowship status. “Once Certified, members must commit to adherence to the Code of Ethics for Certified Grief Counselors and adhere to their specific profession’s Standards of Practice.”

Instead of counseling, you may choose the simple route and join a support group. For more information about these groups contact your local hospital(s), Department of social Services, and association of churches. Though support groups are free, you should still ask about the qualifications of the group leader and rules of participation. Whether it is a support group, therapy, or counseling, help is available. You are the only one who can decide which is best for you.

Copyright 2010 by Harriet Hodgson

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