A trauma is defined as an extremely distressing event in one’s life which can lead to extended periods of psychological effects. For the purpose of this paper, the trauma is the sudden death of a younger sibling in an automobile accident which the student was also a part of. In such a situation, the school counselor can expect to encounter feelings of grief over the loss of the sibling, shock because the death was sudden and unexpected, and possibly some degree of survivor’s guilt because the student did not die in the accident, as did her sibling. Helping this student to get through this experience with the least amount of psychology damage will require specific forms of counseling intervention.
Death is an unavoidable part of life which almost everyone has to deal with at sudden and unexpected, grief is not the only emotion which survivors are left to deal with. Shock and anger over this type of death are not uncommon, nor is guilt over still being alive when one’s loved one is dead. These emotions are amplified in children, who have not yet learned the necessary coping skills to handle a sudden, unexpected death, especially of someone who is close to them. The role of the school counselor is to help the child to navigate the grieving process in such a way as to avoid long-term psychological damage.
The Trauma to be Addressed
A fifth-grade female student was in the family car with her parents and her younger brother when the car was hit by another vehicle. While the student and her parents received only relatively minor injuries, the student’s younger brother was killed instantly. The student spent one week absent from school because of her minor injuries and also to attend the funeral of her brother, then returned to her normal classroom.
How the Counselor Was Notified of the Trauma
When the student’s parents made the decision to keep her home from school, they contacted the principal to alert her to the situation. The principal then called the child’s teachers and the school counselor into her office for a meeting to discuss how best to deal with the student’s scholastic and emotional needs. It was agreed that the teacher would give extra attention and time to the student to complete her work, and be alert for any signs that the child was not doing well emotionally. The counselor would be available to talk to the student whenever the student felt overwhelmed, and would approach the student to make this offer on her return to school.
Assessment of the Student’s Trauma
The counselor, when not in the presence of the student, will rely on reports from her teachers and other adults who have contact with her on a daily basis to determine if she is coping in an adaptive or maladaptive way to the trauma. The counselor will also contact the student’s parents and offer her services to them, as well as to their daughter. She will ask them to keep her apprised of the student’s behavior at home, and whether she seems to be coping as expected with the loss of her brother, or is in significant emotional distress which would need to be addressed. When meeting with the student herself, the counselor will kindly and with understanding talk to the student about what happened, ask her questions about how she is dealing with it, and attempt to engage her in a discussion on her ideas on the topic of death. It is important for the counselor to ascertain the student’s emotional maturity as it regards the reality of death in order to treat her as effectively as possible (James, 2016). Knowing how the child feels about what happens when a person dies will play a large part in deciding the best way for the counselor to offer support. For instance, it is important to know if the child believes in or has some concept of an afterlife. If she does, the counselor might consider referring her to a priest, minister, or other clergy member for additional counseling outside of the school setting (James, 2016).
Person-Centered Counseling in Grief Therapy
Person-centered counseling, which focuses on being supportive and positive towards the client while asking a minimum of questions and not directly guiding the counseling session, is appropriate for a child undergoing grief, as in this case (McEachron, 2014). In cases such as this, the student basically just needs to be heard and told that whatever reactions she is having are acceptable and accepted by the counselor. The student does not need to feel judged at this point in her life; she basically needs to be supported during this trauma. As her parents are experiencing a traumatic reaction of their own, they might not be in the best position to offer this support, so it becomes the duty of the counselor to ensure that the child has all of the support which she needs (Bell & Robinson III, 2013). As to the needs of the parents, the counselor will suggest that the entire family could benefit from grief counseling, either together, individually, or in a support-group setting (McEachron, 2014). She will make this transition easier for the family by researching programs or counselors who offer these services close to their community and offering this information to the parents. If the student has indicated that her family has a religious or spiritual background, the counselor will also suggest to the parents that they make an appointment to speak to their spiritual advisor.
When dealing with a trauma of this severity, both the student and her parents are going to need a multitude of people to support them. The goal of the counselor should be to identify their personal and family needs and find a way for them to be met. The counselor will keep in close touch with the student’s teachers to ensure that the girl is not becoming more, rather than less, stressed, and will talk with the student and her parents regularly to reassess their progress and needs. The most important things that the counselor can offer the student and her parents at this time in their lives is unconditional support and help finding the resources they need to get through this difficult stage of their lives.
- Bell, C. H., & Robinson III, E. H. (Oct 2013). Shared trauma in counseling: Information and implications for counselors. Journal of Mental Health Counseling 35(4): 310-323.
- James, R. K. (2016). Crisis Intervention Strategies (8th ed.). Pacific Groves, CA: Brooks/Cole Publishing.
- McEachron, G. (Mar 2014). Compassion for the young experiencing the trauma of death. Journal of Child & Adolescent Trauma 7(1): 63-72.
- Nabors, L., Baker-Phibbs, C., & Woodson, K. (Apr-Jun 2016). Community-based counselors’ interventions for elementary school-age children coping with trauma. Journal of Prevention & Intervention in the Community 44(2): 79-91.