Most therapists don’t get any training on the psychology of grief and loss while they are learning to become counselors, yet almost all therapist list grief as service they provide clients and I think that’s misleading. While they may be experienced in listening and comforting you while you’re in pain, I’m thinking you might want a bit more that because a safe friend and confidant can do that and she will do it for free.
I’m one of the lucky few who even had the opportunity to take a class on grief in graduate school because I happened to have a professor who was passionate about the subject. Unfortunately, even that course was an elective (as in most counseling students didn’t take it. Shouldn’t it have been mandatory since we all will have clients will encounter grief at some point?)
You see, as a therapist, you have to seek out your own training if you are interested in learning about grief counseling and grief research. That means that most therapists out there today – unless they have actively sought out additional training – know as much about grief as you do. If they haven’t sought out workshops or read books on the subject, they know what they learned from Psych 101 or maybe a little more if they happened to take Abnormal Psychology, which is not a given because not all Licensed Counselors or Social Workers have their undergraduate degrees in psychology. Even scarier – you may know more about grief because it’s possible your counselor has not even experienced someone close to them die, but you have.
I’m totally serious.
Let me say it one more time. Your therapist may know as much about grief research, the process of grief, grief reactions both normal and abnormal as you do. I know. Holy Shit.
And now, I completely contradict myself: A truly empathic, genuine, kind and skilled therapist who does deep work with you can absolutely 100% be enough to get you through the worst loss in your life and not know a thing about the latest bit of research from Death Studies or know jack shit about Neimeyer. I actually work everyday to be that kind of therapist and I believe deep in my soul that being that present and real trumps research every single time.
But….most therapists aren’t like that and when we don’t have that kind of magic – we need the fucking knowledge. So, the reason I’m letting you know this is so you can be an informed consumer. Here’s what I recommend:
If you are already in therapy when the death occurs: Since you already have a good relationship with your therapist, you are getting the support you need and that’s nothing to sneeze at and you are probably are already doing that deep work I was talking about. You can ask if your therapist knows about Neimeyer (soon young Padawan), but even if he or she doesn’t , it’s okay. You and your therapist can decide what is the best thing for your right now.
If you aren’t in therapy and want to find a grief counselor: You can look for clues in the counselor’s past work history like at a hospital or hospice. Look for the professional organization called ADEC which is the Association for Death Education and Counseling listed on the curriculum vitae (CV) of the therapist or counselor you’re researching. Other things to note on the CV – the names of the workshops – are any of the related to grief? What about the counselor’s website or blog – are there any articles on grief? And don’t forget to see if you can find our friend Dr. Neimeyer referenced anywhere.
Da Da Da……Introducing Robert A. Neimeyer, Ph.D. He is an amazing, kind-hearted, prolific grief researcher who has done groundbreaking work in our field and has written 24 books and over 300 articles and book chapters. So basically if you are current on grief counseling, you would definitely know who Neimeyer is. Knowing Neimeyer is code for “I am knowledgeable grief counselor.” (BTW – You wouldn’t need to ask me if I know Neimeyer because you would see on my CV that I have attended workshops led by him and often cite him in my articles and um, I have an article with his name in the title – boom).
– Note to my fellow therapists – please don’t hate – I promise I refer out for the things I don’t know how to do that you know how to do.
– Note to my fellow grief counselors that are certified in thanatology (study of death) – You win and you are better than me! (You can be certified in our field through our professional organization ADEC. You read books and take a test and give them proof of the classes you’ve taken. Mama’s done with tests.)