Wediko Blog

Grief counseling group addresses ambiguous loss, with emotional and academic benefits for students

Posted in: Blog, Grief and Loss  |  By:  | 
Wediko New York Programs staff gather for grief and loss training

Clinicians from Wediko School-Based Services (in Boston) and Wediko New York Programs have been collaborating to further an initiative to better support students’ needs regarding grief and loss.

Wediko’s Living with Loss grief counseling program supports students coping with the devastating effects of loss that, according to Program Manager Kate Tetuan, LICSW, comes in a variety of forms.

Why focus on ambiguous loss?

“Since most grief and loss group counseling focuses on death loss, we saw ambiguous loss as an area where there wasn’t much focus, but there was a lot of need,” Tetuan said.

Ambiguous loss, a concept furthered in the research of clinicians like Pauline Boss, Ph.D., can be broken into two specific types:

  1. Someone who is physically present but psychologically absent (Ex: Alzheimer’s disease, mental health disorders, etc), or
  2. Someone who is psychologically present but physically absent (Ex: Absent parents, incarceration, etc).

“We see a lot of students struggling with ambiguous loss,” Tetuan said. “Society tends to not recognize it, which can lead to a lot of symptom confusion.”

The goal of these Living with Loss school-based counseling groups, then, is to validate the experience of ambiguous loss along with other loss that may be affecting students.

“For the entire program, the goal is to have participants, families, and school staff acknowledge the universality of all loss, not just death loss,” Tetuan said.

Living with Loss program for grief counseling

Boston’s Living with Loss Program has already started it’s 10-week fall cycle, with grief support groups meeting out of the Wediko Boston Office, Boston Community Leadership Academy, and New Mission High School.

“So far, we are seeing more consistent attendance at groups, as well as an increased willingness and comfort in expressing loss-related feelings,” Tetuan said. “They’ve really jumped in head first.”

Recognizing need beyond Boston, Tetuan has been working with clinicians in Wediko’s New York Programs to cultivate the mission further.

“Since 2013, [Tetuan] has been training all New York staff to support students in grief and loss,” said Meghan Gabriel, LCSW and Living with Loss’ New York Manager. “This summer, we worked together to revamp the material and will be starting groups in a couple schools in late November.”

Currently scheduled to work in New Directions Secondary School, Carroll Gardens School for Innovation, and Jose Celso Barbosa (PS MS 206), the Living with Loss New York Program is likely to see expansion to other schools as well.

“This is a helpful model for New York Programs,” Gabriel said. “Small group counseling is becoming more of a norm. Once the service is offered, schools definitely want it.”

These grief support groups are helpful for the participants, with preliminary data collection showing increased school attendance rates, as well as improved grades. In addition, they can help expand how grief and loss are currently addressed.

“We [Tetuan and Gabriel] submitted a proposal for the National Alliance for Grieving Children’s National Conference,” Gabriel said. “When we attended last year, there was no mention of non-death loss and we recognized room for growth.”

“A large number of our student referrals identified ambiguous loss as being a source of struggle,” Tetuan added. “We’re looking to help broaden the scope.”

While they may not hear a decision regarding their proposal until January, the Living with Loss Program remains steadfast in their work toward a more inclusive understanding of grief and loss.

“The benefit of doing this work in schools is that students are already there, so we have much easier access,” Tetuan concluded. “With this increased opportunity, we have a greater ability to make a larger impact.”

Interested in having Living with Loss at your school? See Program details.

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