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Lynne Halamish

Questions About Grief Counseling

Is "grief counseling" a recognized profession with a standardized course of study?

Yes, the professional qualification is Certified Thanatologist, or a second degree in Thanatology ("CT"), either of which designates an expert in the field of death and dying, loss and grieving.

What is Thanatology?

Thanatology is the study of death, especially the medical, psychological and social problems associated with dying.

(Thanatos is the Greek word for death, and it is personified in Greek mythology.)

How long does someone study this subject in order to qualify for professional practice?

It requires at least 2 years after your first degree, in order to receive an MA, or CT (Certified Thanatologist). There are also advanced qualification courses that up to a PhD level.

What is the difference between Thanatology and Psychology?

Many psychologists do "grief therapy" along with the other counseling issues. Thanatologists deal exclusively with issues around death and dying, loss and grieving.

Grief counseling is not therapy. It is the support of emotionally healthy people who have suffered a trauma or loss, and help them return to an emotionally stable, pre trauma, life.

What kind of loss can require grief counseling?

Death of a close person

Loss of a limb

Loss of health, particularly a terminal illness

Loss of country, home, status, work

Discovering one is adopted (loss of biological parents)

Death of a marriage (divorce) or other intimate relationship

Many other specific losses that an individual finds traumatic

Does everyone who suffers one of these losses need counseling

Everyone who suffers one of these losses will (and should) grieve. But not everyone who is grieving needs grief counseling. The difference depends on many factors, such as:

The suddenness of the loss

Whether the lost one is an adult or a child

The cause of the loss

The sufferer´s personal grief history

What is the worst kind of grief to deal with?

The two types of grief that are considered the most difficult to grieve are:

The loss of a parent, for a child under the age of 12

The loss of a child of any age

What is the worst type of death to grieve?

Any cause of death that involves intent is usually more difficult for the grieving process.

In order of difficulty, these are:

Suicide

Murder

Can small children be counseled on such a scary subject as death?

Yes. In fact, it is the refusal to talk to young grievers about death that makes the process more scary for them.

When you talk to a small child about death, it helps him/her to be part of the grieving group, instead of being left to try to understand what is happening on his/her own. This is a much better way of protecting the child than hiding information. Children of all ages can understand more about death than you might think.

With small children, they can either be counseled directly, or their parents can be given the tools to help them.

Can you know for sure whether someone is grieving in a healthy way and getting over their loss?

Yes. With the vast majority of losses (almost every case), the grieving process has a beginning, a middle and the possibility of an end.

Finishing grief does not mean forgetting the loved one. It does not mean the loved one is never missed or cried over. What then is "the end" of grief?

When someone is in intense grief, usually all of the color and interest leaves life. Joy is a thing barely remembered, not to be touched. When grief is over, the sun comes out again, a sense of meaning again begins to suffuse life, the color comes back, and joy (if it is part of the griever's original repertoire) can return.

Joy is not the same as laughter. (The real source of laughter is usually pain.) Joy is a deeper satisfied feeling that can return when the grief is past.

How long does grief counseling require for effective treatment?

Grief is not a sickness and does not require a 'cure'. However, the time required for grieving to run its course, and the assistance required in coping with that process, can vary greatly according to individual needs.

When people come for counseling, some will want to meet for a year or more to acquire a sufficient understanding of what they are going through. Others will not require more than one meeting to acquire tools for practical coping. It depends on the specifics of the situation, the individual's strengths and weaknesses, their support system, and other stressors in their lives.

Is there additional literature regarding this field?

Yes. For some examples, click on the recommended reading page on this site.

Are you a doctor? A professor?

Neither. I am a qualified grief counselor with an MA in Thanatology and Gerontology.

How long have you been in the field?

Over 25 years.

Who do you counsel?

I provide counseling for specific situations regarding death and dying:

People who have life-threatening illness.

People grieving for someone who has died a sudden or unexpected death.

People who are grieving for a child or a spouse.

Grief over death caused by violence and intent (suicide or murder).

I also counsel people suffering from other types of loss not necessarily associated with death:

Loss of a limb or other body part.

Adopted persons who feel the loss of their biological parents, despite never having met them.

Loss of relationship (such as divorce).

Why do people need you to help them deal with grief?

Many people deal with their grief very successfully without counseling. The difficulty usually arises with either the taboo surrounding the subjects of death and grief, or the lack of information about what is normal, or a specific type of death that is more difficult to bear.

Sometimes people only need to hear that the symptoms of grief they are experiencing following the death of a loved one are normal - either in intensity or duration, or both.

Other times people need some practical guidance, such as, "Should my children attend their father's funeral, and if so, is there anything that can be done to prepare them for it?"

Do you prescribe medical treatment?

I do not prescribe medical treatment. I do make referrals to physicians and psychiatrists as appropriate.

What about people who wish to die?

I do not assist people to commit suicide under any circumstance. Grief is not a static condition, and a "decision" to end one´s own life is not necessarily final. This includes not only grievers who are devastated by a loss, but also the terminally ill who speak of ending their lives in a proactive manner. Their wish to die will frequently pass during the grieving process.

If a griever´s wish to die is premorbid (before the death of their loved one), I usually refer them to a psychiatrist for medical intervention and therapy.