Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Grief camps and support groups

Grief camps like Comfort Zone Camp, offer children a place where they can talk about a relative who died without feeling self-conscious or worrying about making classmates squeamish. There are a variety of camp formats.  There are day camps, weekend camps, and week long camps.  Some in our area have long waiting lists.  I often suggest to families that they explore the camp options and then talk to the child about whether they would like to try a grief camp.  Most of the students I have worked with the past several years have wanted to go back to camp again the next year.  Bereavement programs for children help them feel less ‘odd person out.’ 

In peer support groups, available for children ages 3 to 18, adults encourage conversation between children and let them mourn as they wish.  Many of the survivor groups like those offered through Life with Cancer are free.  Most of the groups incorporate some type of art therapy activities. Again most children appreciate the opportunity to talk to a peer with a similar experience.

But peer support groups are not counseling and therapy. If a child is still struggling 2-3 months after the death, counseling may be indicated.  Hospice centers are a good place to get help early on. They not only focus on the needs of dying patients, but also offer bereavement services for up to a year after the patient’s death. 

Often times a parent dealing with a death may need counseling or therapy too.   I had a parent/survivor of a death state recently "I am still trying to figure out what grief counseling is and if I need it?"  As school counselors we definitely need to be able to explain what grief counseling is and how and why a person may need to access it.  Children need at least one parent who is emotionally available to them.  In addition to telling families about services available for children, we may need to help them find out about services available to adults in the community.  Again hospice and Life with Cancer may be good starting places for parents who are grieving.

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