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Figuring out how to get professional help after the death of a loved one can be a daunting task. Suddenly one is thrown into a world that feels unreal. A person may be in shock, devastated and fatigued by the physical and emotional effects of grief. Making routine decisions can seem overwhelming. When one is so vulnerable, it’s hard to know the right questions to ask when seeking professional support.
Here are some thoughts on what to consider:
- Bereavement services have grown very fast over the past few years. Look for someone who has the education and credentials to justify their work. A counselor must have a master’s degree and should be licensed or license eligible. You can verify licensure (and ethical violations) of any counselor through the PA State Board of Social Workers, Marriage and Family Therapist, and Professional Counselors (www.dos.state.pa.us). Click on licensing, health-related boards and the state board mentioned above.
- Any counselor can call themselves a grief counselor but that does not make it so. Check on this. What post graduate work or other credentials do they have to support this specialty? If they facilitate support groups, what trainings have they have attended or certifications have they earned to call themselves a grief specialist. The Association for Death Education and Counseling (adec.org) provides lists of grief counselors in all states.
- Grief counseling is meant to focus on the grieving person. It is inappropriate for counselors to share their experiences, whether in sessions, emails or websites. It is also unnecessary that they suffered a loss similar to yours. Heart surgeons can do amazing work on hearts but it does not mean that they need to experience a heart attack first. Such as it is with grief counseling.
- It is the counselor’s responsibility to practice adequate self care outside their work so they can bring their best self into their work. Conscientious counselors seek regular professional supervision. This is provided by experienced counselors who review the work of the counselor to make sure they are attending to the grieving person’s needs. Does your counselor attend supervision?
- If a grief counselor practices with an inordinate amount of death anxiety, they may show an inability to use direct language such as “dying,” “died,” “death,” or “killed.” In addition they may shift away from uncomfortable conversation, fail to ask difficult questions or work through their own discomfort or emotional experiences by crying.
We would be glad to talk with you further about questions you may have. Bereavement services cannot magically take away the pain of grief, but the right professional support can allow the process of healing to unfold.