Counselling with Adolescents
by Sister Donna
Egan, M.Ed, CCC
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and young children are subject to many losses beginning with the
loss of pets, of a home/neighbourhood due to family mobility and
loss of grandparents and other relatives. Some experience prematurely,
the loss of loved ones such as parents, siblings or very close
friends. These latter types of losses have the greatest impact
on young people.
varied psychological, behavioural, social and physical reactions
to loss is what is terms the "process of grief". In
grief work, the goal is to provide the opportunity for the expression
of feelings and to assure the bereaved person that these feelings
are normal. This process can be quite complex for the adolescent
who is also experiencing various emotional changes at this time
in life. The caregiver, whether this person be a parent or counsellor,
provides the atmosphere in which the adolescent is given the freedom
to share his/her feelings and questions surrounding the loss.
Caregivers can enhance this process by sharing their own feelings
associated with present and past losses.
has been my experience in providing grief counselling that adolescents
carefully choose when they wish to do their grief work. They have
taught me to wait until they are ready - perhaps it is the period
of time when they experience the most intense emotional pain.
We, as counsellors/caregivers have to respect that "readiness"
to approach help with grief and not expect adolescents to begin
the grief work when we think they should. It is a very difficult
step for some to take, especially if they have not been guided
in recognizing their feelings from a very early age. For these
adolescents, the grief process may be seen in their behaviours,
such as aggressive acts or social withdrawal. These are signals
that they are experiencing the natural feelings of anger, frustration
and sadness connected with loss. For the adolescent, these feelings
are often unconscious causing them a great deal of confusion.
an adolescent does decide to approach a caregiver for help with
a significant loss, it is critical to communicate to her/him at
the outset that these feelings are very normal. It is essential
to emphasize as well that each person experiences these feelings
of sadness, disbelief, anger and confusion in his/her own way.
Each person's response to loss is a unique journey. There are
so-called stages of grief: shock and denial stage, a period for
expression of intense feelings and a time of healing and acceptance.
These stages are not linear nor clear-cut. In journeying with
the bereaved, the experience of these "stages" seem
cyclical - ebbing back and forth as time moves onward. Young persons
fluctuate in this world of numerous feelings and reactions - their
world becomes more confusing than usual.
is a difference between grief and mourning. While the goal of
grieving is to have feelings expressed, the goal of mourning work
is to take the person beyond the grief reactions to an adapted
life that includes a change in one's relationship to the deceased,
a development of a new sense of self and a discovery of new emotional
investments in other persons or projects. The counsellor/therapist
provides the presence, predictability and perseverance for the
process to occur. Adolescents, being very vulnerable, are disenfranchised
when not given the opportunity to grieve and mourn. If this need
is not acknowledged, the work becomes delayed and this "leaving
on hold" can result in complicated emotional disorders of
anxiety and depression. More encouragement needs to be given to
male children and adolescents to express their feelings because
the social taboo "boys don't cry" deprives them from
entering into the grief-mourning work which eventually give them
more freedom to be themselves. As was already noted, adolescents
who control feelings associated with loss or refuse to talk about
the same may experience persistent anxiety that can express itself
in anti-social and self-destructive behaviours.
counselling, we lean toward the verbal dialogue as the means of
helping the client. Other means of helping adolescents who find
it difficult to verbalize their feelings are journal writing and
art expression. Many at this age keep daily journals so making
use of something familiar seems appropriate. Free use of art media
provides a non-threatening medium for self-expression and most
young children and adolescents engage in this activity quite readily.
As caregivers, we enhance these processes for our bereaved youth
by being honest and transparent about our own feelings associated
with loss, by allowing them to own their perceptions/visions of
the deceased person and by giving them an abundance of understanding
and hope that will bring them to a new place.
can't be hurried, but it can be shared".
Donna Egan, M.Ed is a guidance counsellor at Stonepark High School,
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