Companioning the Grieving Child

Treatment versus Companioning the Grieving Child

Treatment of grief is a very cold term.  In some ways, it sees grief as a pathology in itself.  Is not the very meaning of treatment to “cure”?  Grief cannot be cured but neither is it pathological.  It is a natural feeling that comes with the ability to love.  Hence grief is part of the human condition and can only be cared for in regards with coping, accepting and accommodating loss into one’s life.  Companioning the grieving child is less about curing but walking with the grieving child.  It sees grief as a process and not an event.
Dr. Wolfelt differentiates treatment and companioning in his text, “Companioning the Grieving Child”.  He uses the analogy of gardening to best describe grief care of a child.  A gardener feeds and nourishes the plants and protects it from weeds and other foreign agents.  He helps cultivate the soil and keeps a watchful eye on the flower’s progress.  However, he does not over water it, over nourish it or “grow” it himself.  He allows the flower to grow via his aid but he cannot make the plant bloom.  The plant can only bloom on its own.

In like manner, the grief counselor can protect the child from outside sources and be an advocate.  The grief counselor can also help nourish the psychological recovery of the child from grief, but ultimately it is the child who will reawaken from grief and “bloom”.
Dr. Wolfelt distinguishes these key characteristics between treatment and companioning:
1.  Treatment looks to return the child to the prior state of grieving, while companioning emphasizes helping the child transform not to an “old pre-grief normal state” but to a “new post grief normal state”.  This means the child will never the be the same after loss but can still live a healthy and happy life without grief complications.
2.  Treatment attempts to control symptoms of grief and views distress as undesirable, while companioning bears witness to a child’s grief and sees value in the symptoms of grief.
3. Treatment views the counselor as the perceived expert on the child, while companioning views the child as the guide to the counselor.
4. Treatment views a sustained relationship with the deceased as pathological, while companioning views a sustained relationship from present to memory as healthy.
5.Treatment sees the grieving child in a passive role, while companioning sees the active mourning of a child to be an active element
6. Treatment views quality of care as how well the grief was managed, while companioning views quality of care in how well the bereavement counselor allowed the child to lead
7. Treatment wishes to remove and overcome denial, while companionship matches denial with compassion and patience.
8. Treatment hopes to create a strategic plan of intervention, while companionship hopes and is willing to learn as the child finds meaning.  There is no need to solve or satisfy an immediate dilemma.
Through these Eight points, one can see the differences of companionship and treatment of grief.  As a grief counselor, how many times do you see yourself treating instead of companioning?
Mark Moran, MA, GC-C, SCC-C

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