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In reality, school counselors often lack the time and specialized training to offer extended services in bereavement counseling to individual adolescents. However, students who lose a parent during this critical stage of development are in need of intervention. In fact, providing services as soon after the loss as possible is a critical factor in the recovery process. Unfortunately, an in-depth literature review revealed only a limited number of references that offered models or practical recommendations for adolescent bereavement services designed for school settings. These few bereavement models provided general information on services for adolescents with no systematic evaluations in objectives measures. In addition, only one study (Moore & Herlihy, 1993) offered a model that specifically focused on adolescent loss in response to the death of a parent; no references were found that provided strategies specially related to the death of a mother. Following is a composite of the few models and strategies that are available for both individual and group counseling.
Kandt (1994) and Wolfert (1997) offered the following individual counseling strategies for short-term bereavement work in a school setting.
In school settings, additional long-term individual support can be gained through referrals to outside agencies. Depending on adolescent needs, more extensive counseling may be offered, or for more complicated bereavement cases, intense therapy may be required. Grief counseling is an accepted initial approach for adolescents who are experiencing an uncomplicated grief (Worden, 1991). Grief counseling allows these adolescents to resolve unfinished matters with their deceased mothers and to say goodbye.
The school counselor must assess whether counseling or therapy is more appropriate in assisting an adolescent to adjust to a loss. It is important to become familiar with the adolescent's social and emotional history. Determination of how many earlier deaths or losses the adolescent has experienced and how those losses were mourned are important factors. If these earlier losses were not mourned or resolved, there is a greater risk for a more complicated grief reaction with the current loss (Keitel et al., 1998; Valentine, 1996). It is also important to assess the adolescent's mental health history. Adolescents with a history of depression should be considered at risk for a more complicated bereavement (Valentine, 1996). Finally, it is necessary to assess the amount of support available to the individual, both within and outside the family. If the family system is unable to provide support to the adolescent, he or she is at risk for a more difficult grief reaction (Worden, 1991).
Whether counseling or therapy is undertaken, the goal is to facilitate the mourning process. Worden (1991) enumerated four tasks of mourning, (1) to accept the death of the loved one, (2) to uncover and endure the pain inherent in the grieving process, (3) to adapt to an environment in which the loved one is absent, and (4) to reconnect with the deceased in a way that the mourner is able to continue with life. These goals should guide any therapeutic interventions undertaken.
A peer support group model used as a resource for facilitating the mourning process among bereaved adolescents has been suggested by a number of authors (Cornell & Pack, 1993; Kandt, 1994; Keitel et al., 1998; Quarmby, 1993; Wolfert, 1997). However, few models exist for conducting such groups in a school setting. Obviously, grief is a complex process that takes time and energy as everyone moves through their own pace regarding strategies and issues. However, two short-term models in school settings are summarized below.
Moore and Herlihy (1993) recommended a group model for adolescents who had lost a parent. Their design included a 6-week group of six to eight members for weekly 60-minute to 90-minute sessions. The sessions focused on a discussion of various individual experiences in the grieving process. They found that adolescents preferred interaction with peers in the familiar context of the school environment to individual counseling. Since adolescents have a more difficult time grieving than adults, they found that using some structure and themes was beneficial for this age group. The group sessions were very structured and included the following content: (a) sharing the event, (b) mini-sessions on stages of grieving such as Kubler-Ross's (1969) stages of grieving, (c) events after death, (d) special concern of the changing family, (e) family rituals and holidays, and (f) termination. Although these groups were short term, Moore and Herlihy (1993) found them to be beneficial to students and very manageable in a school setting.
Similarly, Kandt (1994) presented a short-term support group for grieving adolescents. Although it was not specifically designed for adolescents grieving the death of a parent, it does at least provide another school-based support model. An eight-session bereavement support group focused on issues surrounding the loss and provided opportunities for further exploration. Again, this group model was highly structured and included the following content sessions: (a) establish norms and procedures and have participants share the loss experience, (b) share keepsakes identified with the deceased, (c) provide adolescents with opportunities to tell their stories while receiving education about death and dying issues, (d) deal with concerns which often include final rites, special occasions, and unfinished business with the deceased; (e) summary evaluation and a closure celebration; and (f) a final meeting one month after termination to serve as an opportunity to share how they were getting along and decide on any referrals for more long-term counseling.
If the surviving father proves to be emotionally unavailable and unsupportive of the adolescent's grief, the counselor could step in and act as a temporary parental substitute (Rosen, 1991). The counselor may act as a parental figure who provides the support, nurturance, and guidance that the "parentless" adolescent requires for healthy developmental progression. A female counselor may be particularly effective in this respect since she might act as a temporary replacement for the mother-figure. The bereaved daughter, in particular, might be able to use the female counselor, via the transference relationship, to resolve issues of guilt or ambivalence towards her deceased mother.
Grief and Loss Coping Strategies for Foster Parents
- Washington State Department of Social & Health Services. Grief and Loss Coping Strategies for Foster Parents.
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