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Therapy for Children's Grief
On the last track we discussed anger. Three important aspects of anger are anger as a manifestation of grief, anger history, and identifying triggers. We also discussed two techniques for coping with anger.
On this track we will discuss guilt. Three concepts regarding guilt are guilt is common, unrealistic guilt, and the reassigning responsibility technique. This track contains a case study in which a feeling of responsibility causes the client to feel guilty. If you are treating a grieving client who experiences guilt regarding a death, perhaps he or she could identify with the content of this track. Consider playing this track for that client.
Three Concepts Regarding Guilt
Concept #1 - Guilt Is Common
Malcolm’s father Derrick stated, "It’s strange. Ever since the funeral, Malcolm has been doing all his chores and homework on time. He doesn’t talk back to me and hasn’t gotten into any trouble at school. Not that he was ever a trouble maker, but you know how kids are." Do you agree that Malcolm’s sudden change in attitude may be cause for concern?
I stated to Derrick, "Malcolm may have some guilty feelings. I find that children and adolescents who become "too well behaved" either regret something or feel guilty. Guilt and regret are common among children his age who experience grief." Think of your Malcolm. Has he or she become unnaturally well behaved as a result of guilt? How could you uncover the source of that guilt?
Concept #2 - Unrealistic Guilt
Next I asked Malcolm about the role he played in his mother’s death. Malcolm stated, "On the day she died I was at school, but that morning is when I did what I did to her. I got up late, and hadn’t finished my math homework. The book was still lying open on the kitchen table. Then the bus rolled up and I was leaving when she started yelling at me for not taking the trash out. By the time I hit the door, she really looked mad! Three hours later she had a heart attack and died."
Though he may have regretted not finishing his homework, the guilt he was feeling was unrealistic due to the fact that this minor disagreement did not cause her death. Think of your grieving client. Do you need to help him or her get relief from unrealistic guilt? If so, the following technique may help your Malcolm.
Technique: Reassigning Responsibility
I find it helpful to allow the client to reassign responsibility. As you can probably guess, Malcolm did not wish to believe his mother was responsible for her own death, so he reassigned responsibility to family history of heart disease and natural causes. By reassigning responsibility for his mother’s death, Malcolm was able to start to escape his unrealistic guilt.
Think of your Malcolm. Does your grieving client feel guilty regarding events leading up to a loved one’s death? How can you help your client find relief so that he or she can start to continue to work through his or her grief work.
On this track we have discussed guilt. Three concepts regarding guilt are guilt is common, unrealistic guilt, and the understanding responsibility technique.
On the next track we will discuss murder and how it affects grieving children. Three aspects of murder that we will discuss are how murder can create complicated grief, grief from murder may present differently, and productive anger from grief.
- Dowdney, L. (2000). Annotation: Childhood Bereavement Following Parental Death. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 41(7), 819-830. doi:10.1111/1469-7610.00670.
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