Grief Counseling: A Guide for School Counselors

It is important that you are prepared with grief counseling strategies you can use at each tier, but if your experience was anything like mine, you probably didn't get a "here's how to grief counsel" handbook in grad school. It's the hardest topic to discuss with students. But with trial and error and experiences over the years I have developed some strategies to make handling a tough topic a little easier.

Grief Counseling Through Class Lessons

While it is certainly not the most fun topic to cover, grief is an inevitable part of life. It is our job to help students heal and offer love and support during difficult times.

grief

There are 2 ways you can address grief in a class lesson:

Option 1: Teach a preventative lesson to all students so if and when a tragic event happens, students feel prepared to handle it.

Option 2: Teach a lesson to a specific group of affected students in response to a tragic event.

While the latter is totally necessary, you may find it easier to do once you've already taught the first lesson. This way students have a basic understanding of grief and possible coping strategies in place.

Here are some things to cover in in a preventative grief lesson (option 1):

  • define grief

  • how grief manifest itself in different ways

  • the range of emotions that can be experienced when grieving (not just sadness; but anger, fear, etc)

  • how to support a friend who is grieving

  • who to talk to in their support system if they are grieving

  • opportunity to share a time they've experienced loss

  • possible coping strategies

Tips for Leading a Grief Group

It is helpful if each session has a clear purpose. This is a breakdown of what I like to do:

Week 1: Introduction

  • This is where you can establish group norms and play get to know you games. Keep it light so student feel comfortable opening up.

  • Use an icebreaker game like "Would You Rather?" to get students talking.

Week 2: Feelings

  • Have students share different feelings they've experienced with their loss. It is important to normalize all emotions, not just sadness.

  • Use discussion cards to start a conversation. Have students draw a feelings card (ex: sad, scared, happy) and then share a time they felt that way related to their loss. (You may be thinking, "Happy?!", but they can share a happy memory or perhaps a sense of relief they are feeling now if their loved one was sick, etc)

Week 3: Memories

  • Have students share memories of their loved one. They can do so in relation to feelings they discussed in Week 2. (ex: a happy memory, a funny memory, etc)

  • Students can create flip books to draw and write abut their memories. Encourage them to share with the group if they feel comfortable.

  • BONUS IDEA: Students can do a show and tell memory box with items or photos that remind them of their loved one.

Week 4: Support System

  • It is important to make sure students have a support system they can turn to once the group ends. Have them identify at least two people at home, school, and in the community they can talk to. (ex: sibling, counselor, coach)

  • You can do a craft where students write down these people and their contact information for easy reference later.

Week 5: Goal Setting

  • It is also important to have students set goals for their future even if it is unrelated to their grief/healing.

  • You can have them create a future vision board and share it with the group!

I recommend having students write in a journal at the end of each session and to use a rating scale to note how their feeling are changing. Remember grief is like a rollercoaster, healing is not linear!

If you're looking for a group curriculum with a similar layout, check out my Memory Keepers one here.

How to talk to students about grief in 1-on-1 settings

You can use many of the above group strategies with individual students as well.

For older students try...

  • Journaling

  • Writing letters to loved ones

  • Simply listening!

With little ones you can...

  • Make cards

  • Draw Pictures

  • Discussion Cards

  • Board Games

Grief counseling never gets easier, but having multi-tiered systems in place can best support students who are going through a difficult time.

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