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April 8, 2024

Navigating Loss: How Grief Counseling Can Support Teens

Losing a loved one can be an incredibly challenging experience, especially for teenagers who are already navigating the complexities of adolescence. Grief can manifest in various ways for teens, impacting their emotional well-being, relationships, and overall mental health. In such times of distress, seeking support through grief counseling can provide invaluable assistance in processing emotions, coping with loss, and rebuilding a sense of normalcy.

I (Jhamasa Lewis) have worked extensively with teens navigating grief. I have aided them in transitioning to fully feeling their emotions instead of finding comfort in disconnection. Adolescence is a time between childhood and adulthood that is already fraught with an increase in emotions and exploring identity. Experiencing loss at this tender intersection can be destabilizing, but it does not mean that anyone’s life is over. The key is learning how to move through the loss instead of ignoring it or being demolished by it. To get in contact with me, book a free consultation here: Reach Out for Support | Contact Us | WOC Therapy

Understanding Teen Grief

We often view childhood as a protected time. Death does not come into our lives until adulthood and old age. Unfortunately, that is not true. Up to twenty percent of teenagers will lose someone close to them, when considering parents, friends, and grandparents. This number goes up when reckoning with the reality of suicides and school shootings in the United States.

Teenagers often face unique challenges when dealing with grief. They may struggle to express their emotions openly, feel isolated in their grief, or find it difficult to seek help from family or friends. Additionally, the pressures of school, social life, and future aspirations can further complicate their grieving process. It is crucial to recognize that teens grieve differently from adults and may require specialized support tailored to their developmental stage.

The Role of Grief Counseling

Grief counseling offers a safe space for teens to explore their feelings, memories, and fears surrounding the loss. A trained counselor can help adolescents navigate the stages of grief, develop coping strategies, and learn healthy ways to express their emotions. Through individual or group therapy sessions, teens can find solace in connecting with others who understand their pain and share similar experiences. Trained counselors can also act as a support for the family as a whole. They represent a third objective party who the teen and parents can go to for advice and communication. This objectivity creates a grounding for the family, giving language and foundation to the loss, and the ability to move through it.

Of course, death of a loved one can bring up thoughts of our own death and views on death. Having a therapist to work through these various facets can be helpful. According to beliefs and values, the therapist can incorporate activities that help the teen reflect on the evolution of their relationship with their loved one instead of the termination. Various practices can include letter writing, commemorative days full of activities they loved to do together, and birthday parties where groups of people can remember their loved one together.

Group of teenagers of color

Benefits of Grief Counseling for Teens

Emotional Support: Grief counselors provide a compassionate and non-judgmental environment where teens can express themselves freely. They feel free to say everything they might not say to friends and family. Teenagers are often extremely sensitive to being perceived. However, in a therapeutic environment, they know they have confidentiality and do not have to worry about their social standing.

Coping Skills: Teens learn effective coping mechanisms to manage their grief and navigate daily challenges. With the influx of hormones and complexities of adolescence, having an explicit guide to create stability after loss can mean all the difference.

Healthy Expression: Counseling encourages teens to express their emotions in constructive ways, reducing the risk of bottling up feelings. Some teenagers may turn to risky activities to get through grief, like substance abuse, self-harm, or unsafe sex. Learning how to express in healthier ways will help alleviate the desire to choose unhealthy methods of expressing pain.

Building Resilience: By processing their grief with professional guidance, teens can develop resilience and adaptability in the face of adversity. Our society often shies away from death. We expect perfunctory funerals that quickly do away with the death. Learning how to embrace death as an integral part of life will help the teenager manage future losses as well as be supports for those around them.

Peer Connection: Group counseling allows teens to connect with peers who are also grieving, fostering a sense of community and understanding. If individual therapy does not feel like the best fit, many teenagers will find relief by meeting other adolescents who are going through similar experiences. Though it is helpful to have therapists and parents support, sometimes having peers who intimately understand your experience can make a far greater impact. It reminds the teen that they are not alone in their experience, and they never are. There will always be people who understand. You just have to reach out and find them.

How Parents Can Support Their Grieving Teen

Parents play a crucial role in supporting their grieving teenager. Encouraging open communication, validating their feelings, and seeking professional help when needed are essential steps in helping teens cope with loss. Additionally, parents can create a supportive environment at home by maintaining routines, offering reassurance, and being patient with their teen’s emotional ups and downs. Your teen may not want to discuss with you and shutdown often. Instead of taking this personally, encourage them that you will always be there for them and applaud them for maintaining peer relationships that are essential to their healing.

Try to normalize all of their feelings and symptoms. This can include volatile reactions like screaming and yelling or extreme regressions like wetting the bed. Stay calm and remind them that grief is a part of life. What they are experiencing is normal, and you understand. Sharing about your personal experiences and demonstrating that you are taking ownership of your own grief will show them that they can own theirs as well. Try to stay away from false positivity. Though focusing on gratitude can be a great protective factor, negative emotions are not meant to be ignored. Continue to make space for them to help your teen get in the practice of validating all of their emotions, not just the ones that are societally acceptable.

Though this post is highlighting the positives of grief counseling, the flip side is that your teenager may not be ready for grief counseling. As a teenager, their emotions may feel highly private and individualized. Recognizing when therapy would push them too much, resulting in withdrawal, is important as well. Parents may keep their child in therapy longer than necessary as well. Respect your child’s “yes” and “no” as much as you can. If they feel that you support their growth in and out of therapy, and you are not terrified by their emotions, they will continue to build trust with you. When it is time, support your child terminating therapy, knowing that they can always come back if they feel that they need the support. The more they build trust in their own emotional intelligence, the more they will feel emboldened to seek out therapy when they need it.

Navigating loss as a teenager can be overwhelming, but with the right support system in place, teens can find healing and resilience in the face of grief. Grief counseling offers a valuable resource for adolescents to process their emotions, gain coping skills, and connect with others who understand their journey. By acknowledging the unique challenges that teens face in grieving and providing them with the necessary support, we can help them navigate loss with strength and hope for the future.