Grief And Loss Theory in Social Work: Providing Grief Counseling
Contributed by Shari Davis, MSW, LISW
This week, Minnesota began to grieve. 26 years after young 11 year-old, Jacob Wetterling was abducted, we learned of his horrific death. His family and the entire community of Minnesota, and perhaps the vast majority of the United States, can know the truth, share in grief, and begin to heal. Read about a social worker’s experience with grief and loss theory in social work practice.
As a social worker, I have had the privilege of working with many different people around many different types of loss. Early in my career, as a perinatal social worker, I met with parents who gave birth to babies who died. I would dress the infants and take them to their parents who could hold, name, say hello and then say goodbye to their baby. Some mothers and fathers would take a picture and plan a funeral. Other parents would suffice with a footprint.
Counseling with parents who have had a loss of a child whether it was a miscarriage or a full term baby was a very intimate experience.
The families lost their child, their future with their child and their dreams. Often their extended families and some friends would be at a loss for what to say and end up saying inadvertently hurtful statements like “maybe it was for the best” or “you can have another”. The parents who experienced the loss of an infant not only lost their child but the innocence of pregnancy and birth for the future. As part of this experience, I developed two support groups, Miscarriage Support and Pregnancy After a Loss. Bringing together parents who had a similar loss gave support to these families.
Adolescent Grief And Loss Theory in Social Work
Most of my experience working with loss was with adolescents in a high school. Sadly, suicide, drug overdose, and car accidents led to students, staff, and community grief. One of the most profound losses was when two 16-year-old school sweethearts, juniors in high school took a joy ride on the frozen lake in January. Their car hit open water and sunk. The young man pushed his girlfriend out of the car but was unable to get out himself. The girl made it to the ice but died from hyperthermia. The community was devastated. The media exacerbated our grief. The television channels replayed the events over and over and sensationalized the events for their ratings.
I learned to suggest that staff and students avoid any media coverage.
It is crucial for healthcare professionals who are part of the community to avoid media recounts. Working with families where a parent or a grandparent died is expected. But the death of adolescents and children is unexpected.
One additional experience also comes to my mind when I think about all the loss I have counseled. I was asked to come to a hotel to help the staff cope with the loss of a man who was a long term resident. He committed suicide and the feelings surrounding this impacted many people. Having time to say goodbye makes a difference in one’s grief.
Grief And Loss Theory in Social Work is a Cornerstone of Life
Research has demonstrated that listening and structuring the interview around specific details of where the client was when they heard about the death or what did the client see, hear or know is more helpful to recovery in the initial phases of grief versus focusing on feelings. Working with individuals around loss can be one of the most rewarding and intimate practices in social work.
Contributed by Shari Davis, MSW, LISW
Shari Davis, MSW, LISW has 31 years of working in school social work with elementary and high school students. Shari’s expertise includes groups, individuals, parenting and serving on IEP teams, as well as, being a case manager for children on an IEP. Shari’s areas of expertise include anxiety, depression, ASD, grief, social skills, LGBT groups, family change, classroom management, children in foster care, trauma and other mental health issues as they affect children and parents.