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Addressing the Grief Knowledge Gap

Therapists and School Personnel Unprepared to Support Grieving Individuals

I want to discuss a significant issue that affects both the fields of therapy and education: our collective lack of preparation to support grieving individuals. Whether you're a therapist or a school teacher, it's crucial to grasp the difficulties grieving individuals face and understand why so many professionals are ill-equipped to provide the necessary help.

The Stark Reality: The Absence of Grief Education

It's alarming to discover that a substantial portion of professionals in therapy and education have received minimal to no formal education in grief and loss. Astonishingly, around 60% of therapists did not have the opportunity to study grief and loss during their undergraduate or graduate education. I, too, was in that situation. I had to seek out courses in the nursing and religion departments to gain insight into this critical aspect of human experience.

Fortunately, times are changing. Now, many universities, including my alma mater, offer a grief and loss course, a testament to the growing recognition of the importance of this area. It's heartening to see institutions recognizing the need for grief education.

I'm excited to share that the University of Buffalo School of Social Work Continuing Education has invited me to provide two courses on grief and loss. One of these courses, recently released, delves into the topic of traumatic grief and is available for self-study. It even offers continuing education (CE) credits, emphasizing the importance of equipping professionals with the necessary knowledge and skills to support grieving individuals effectively.

As for school personnel, a staggering 93% of teachers report that they have never been educated on how to support a grieving student. Shockingly, only 3% of school districts offer training on grief and loss.

However, a significant number of children will experience the death of a parent or sibling before turning 18, and this number more than doubles by the time they reach 25. This statistic doesn't even include the numerous children grieving other deaths, such as grandparents, pets, friends, and other family members.

I was one of those grieving teenagers when my mother passed away when I was just 14 years old. Unfortunately, I had several teachers who lacked a basic understanding of grief and said hurtful things that I still remember vividly, even 29 years later. These experiences prompted me to write about them in the introduction of "The Grief Experience: Tools for Acceptance, Resilience & Connection."

This is precisely why the Center for Informed Grief holds such personal significance to me. I'm driven to help therapists and school personnel become grief-informed, ensuring that children facing grief don't endure the negative and unsupportive responses that I encountered from some of my teachers.

Many therapists, despite their training, may not feel comfortable with grief. It's essential to understand that grief encompasses the feelings associated with any loss, not solely death. Therapists will undoubtedly encounter clients grappling with grief, and teachers will likewise encounter grieving children.

The Consequences of This Knowledge Gap

The ramifications of this knowledge gap are profound. When therapists and school personnel lack a fundamental understanding of grief, they risk unintentionally invalidating the experiences of grieving individuals. This can lead to inadequate support, misunderstandings, and even unintentional harm.

Grief is an intricate and deeply personal journey. Without the proper training, professionals may struggle to navigate the emotional complexities involved. It's not merely about theoretical knowledge; it's about cultivating empathy, understanding, and practical skills to support those in grief effectively.

Closing the Gap

Recognizing the necessity for change is the first crucial step. If you're a therapist or a school teacher, I encourage you to seek out education and training in grief and loss and advocate for your school to provide training opportunities for staff. Organizations like Center for Informed Grief are dedicated to offering resources, consultation, staff development for your school or agency, and specialized training to bridge this knowledge gap. Additionally, consider joining the 'Supporting Grieving Students/Children' Facebook group, where professionals share insights and experiences in supporting grieving children.

By becoming grief-informed, you can provide more effective support, gain confidence and competence in assisting grieving children, validate the experiences of those who are grieving, and ultimately make a profound difference in their lives.

We must acknowledge the gap in grief knowledge among therapists and school personnel and take proactive steps to address it. Grief-informed professionals can offer invaluable support to those navigating the challenging journey of grief and loss. If you're ready to take the next step in becoming grief-informed, consider seeking out resources and training opportunities. Center for Informed Grief is here to assist you on this journey, offering a range of resources, consultation, staff development training for schools or agencies, and specialized training. Together, we can make a meaningful difference in the lives of those who are grieving.

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