Life for a teenager is filled with enough angst as it is. They’re trying to find their footing as they mature into young adults. When tragedy strikes during these teenage years, it may be difficult for your teen to process their grief.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- What’s Grief Counseling for Teens?
- What Happens During a Typical Grief Counseling Session for a Teenager?
- How Can You Tell If Your Teen May Need Grief Counseling?
- Tips for Your Talking to Your Teen About Grief Counseling
- How You Can Help a Teen If They Reject Grief Counseling
Grief counseling for teens is a completely different subset of grief counseling. It aims at bringing hope and healing to those who’ve suffered a significant loss or other trauma in their teenage lives. Below are some ways that teens suffer from grief, and how to reassure someone as they try and cope with their loss.
What’s Grief Counseling for Teens?
Grief therapy or counseling for teens offers them an opportunity to connect with a trained individual who knows and understands what they're going through after suffering a loss or another type of significant setback. Teenagers have unique needs when it comes to processing their grief-related feelings and emotions. Helping a teen cope with the death of a loved one can prove challenging for most parents or caregivers.
A teenager faces many complex life changes and transformations that happen naturally due to puberty and hormonal imbalances. When their personal life suffers a significant setback, they may not know how to cope with their grief. Typical grief reactions for teens might include lashing out in anger, constant irritability, poor performance at school, and withdrawal from activities or social events.
Conversely, they may react in ways that lead to risky behaviors such as substance abuse, promiscuity, or other reckless behaviors. Grief counseling helps teens open up about what they're going through to get the help they need and learn effective coping mechanisms.
Seeing a teenager struggle through grief can be extremely upsetting to their loved ones. Adults may not know what to do or how to help them. Grief therapy can be highly effective in helping teenagers navigate the challenges both in their personal lives and resulting from their loss.
Therapy can provide a safe space for teens to open up and talk to a trusted individual who can help navigate their grief and can help set the groundwork for a successful transition into adulthood.
What Happens During a Typical Grief Counseling Session for a Teenager?
Grief counselors trained with a particular emphasis on teen grief can benefit teenagers suffering through loss. During a typical grief counseling session, a bereaved teen can expect to have a safe space to talk about what they're going through and to express their pain without fear of judgment or reproach.
Therapists and counselors who dedicate their professions to helping teens are skilled in listening to them while helping steer the conversations to support a teen's exploration of the basis of their pain and suffering.
One of the typical teenage reactions to grief is to shut down after suffering a loss. Teens may not want to talk to parents, friends, or school counselors about what they're going through. They may find it challenging opening up to others regarding their experiences. Instead, they may process their grief internally or keep it buried deep down until it's ready to explode.
Teen-focused grief therapy helps adolescents understand and process their grief so that they can heal from their experiences. During treatment, teens have the opportunity to explore their grief reactions, learn about what's causing them, and talk about them. Trained therapists give teens space and time they need to open up while filling in the gaps with helpful information on how they can successfully move through their grief.
During the initial session, the therapist will introduce themselves and give the teenager some basic and relevant information on the therapist's training and background. They'll also get to know the teen by asking some preliminary questions. As the sessions progress, the conversations will generally get more profound and specific. The therapist will listen, offer advice, and introduce new grief-coping mechanisms.
In therapy, teens can also learn to accept their feelings and have more control of their emotional reactions. They learn to navigate through their grief in healthy ways so they can move forward from it.
A therapist can help a teen set the groundwork for an emotionally healthy future after loss by teaching them how to process complex emotions while building emotional intelligence. Grief counseling helps create a deeper understanding of grief and loss.
How Can You Tell If Your Teen May Need Grief Counseling?
After having suffered a significant loss or other trauma in their lives, your teenage child may likely require grief counseling to help them deal with their emotions. It’s possible that they don’t know how to cope with their pain and suffering, and may need someone to guide them through their grief.
Confiding in a parent is sometimes not an option for some teens. They may feel embarrassed or otherwise unable to effectively communicate with someone so close to them. A grief counselor may offer the support that they need without making them feel self-conscious. Here are some things to look for in determining whether your teen may need grief counseling:
1. Withdrawal and isolation
A common characteristic of a teenager’s suffering is withdrawal and isolation from friends and family. You may see this gradual change as it’s occurring, or you may be dealing with trying to sort out your own grief that you didn’t notice their withdrawal.
Reassure your teen that you’re there for them if they feel like talking. You’ll likely be met with an “I’m fine” or “There’s nothing wrong.” Keep an eye out for other sudden changes in their behavior and demeanor. Continue to find ways to reconnect with your teen so that they feel loved and supported as they learn to process their grief.
2. Disinterest in normal routines
Another way a teenager shows signs that they may be in need of grief counseling is when they show disinterest in the things they loved to do prior to suffering their loss or trauma. If your teen was always excited about going to the movies with their friends, taking bike rides to the park, or playing with the dog, and now nothing seems to motivate them, they may be experiencing signs of chronic sadness or depression.
Allow sufficient time to pass before analyzing their level of disinterest. It may be that it’s too soon for them to go back to their normal routines, and they just need a few more weeks to adjust to their loss. If you notice that things are not going back to near normal levels with time, it may be the right time to seek counseling.
3. Lashing out
Out of nowhere, it’ll seem that your teen’s mood shifts from normal to complete anger. If this happens, try not to let it alarm you. As your teen goes through the stages of grief, it’s normal for them to feel angry. They may not know how to control it, or why they’re even feeling this way.
When feelings of anger come up, try your best to diffuse the situation without saying that you know how they feel. This may create even more of an issue, and they may resent you saying that even when it’s coming from a place of love and support. Help your teen find healthy and safe ways of expressing their anger without harming themselves or others.
4. Substance abuse
A teen that acts out in ways that are out of character for them may be suffering from substance abuse. It’s not uncommon for a teenager to turn to other things to help them cope with their overwhelming feelings of grief and loss.
You may need to be on the lookout for behavior that is consistent with someone who is abusing drugs or alcohol. Some things to watch out for are:
- A sudden retreat into their room
- Eyes that are bloodshot
- Pupils that are dilated
- The smell of alcohol or other substances on their breath
- Moodiness or mood swings
- Behavior that is not otherwise normal of someone who’s grieving
5. Loss of hope
Your teen may be acting out in ways or saying things that demonstrate their loss of hope. Listen to them and validate their feelings without offering immediate solutions.
Sometimes a teen just needs someone who’ll listen to them and give them hope that things will get better. Try opening up a dialogue about their loved one, and allow them to do most of the talking.
6. Emotional outbursts or crying spells
Allow time and space for your teen to process and heal from their grief. You can expect them to feel sadness and anger after the first few weeks following a significant loss.
If after a few weeks you notice that their sadness has not lifted, talk to them about what they’re feeling and going through. Reassure them that it helps to talk about how they are feeling.
7. Difficulty concentrating on schoolwork
When a teen is grieving, it’s usually difficult for them to confide in anyone about what they’re feeling. They may be obsessing over their feelings of loss that they find it difficult to concentrate on anything else.
They may begin to lose focus on their school work, or in attending school altogether. Truancy and failing grades are not uncommon after a teen experiences a significant loss. Talk to them about getting them the help they need either at school or through an online grief support group.
8. Obsession with death and dying
Talk with your teen about death and dying before curiosity overtakes them. A teen who obsesses over what happens when you die may be suffering from grief-related death anxiety.
They can have many unanswered questions about what happened to their loved one and why they died. Reassure them that death is not contagious or something to live in fear of.
Self-blame is a common grief reaction in teens. A teenager might suffer the feelings of not having done enough, or that they should have done something different to prevent their loved one’s death. They may be looking for ways to make sense of the situation by inventing scenarios of how it was somehow their fault.
Listen for the use of phrases such as these when your teen describes what they’re feeling:
- “I should’ve been home when (dad fell off the ladder).”
- “I didn’t know that (mom was that sick).”
- “I thought my brother was in his room. (I didn’t see him go out into the pool).”
- “I was calling out to the dog (when he got hit by a car).”
- “I told him to take the picture from up close (when he suffered a deadly accident).”
10. Oversleeping or insomnia
An overt sign that your teen may need outside help is if they spend most of their time sleeping. One of the ways that grief manifests is in the inability to get out of bed each day. A person who is in deep sorrow will lack the motivation to get out of bed, get dressed, and start the day.
On the other hand, the complete opposite might occur. It may be that your teen gets no sleep due to insomnia, or the inability to fall asleep. Both of these grief reactions may lead to other types of grief if left untreated.
Tips for Your Talking to Your Teen About Grief Counseling
Helping your teen grieve begins with talking with them about what grief is and how long grief lasts. Once your teen understands that what they’re feeling is a normal part of grieving, it may help them to start opening up about their emotions.
Consider reading books on grief or other sources of information so that you can better understand the grief process and how it affects your teen. The following are ways in which you can gently suggest counseling for them.
1. Talk about the grief process
This conversation is not the easiest to have especially with a teen who is experiencing other issues common to being a teenager. Sit together to discuss books on grief or available online resources to help break the ice.
Open up about how you’re coping with your grief and things that have helped you since. Go online together and look for specific grief support groups, not just the idea of finding one. Find a few that are relevant to teenagers, and jot them down so that you can reference them later.
2. Suggest a joint first session
The suggestion to seek counseling or therapy is not always a welcome one when it comes to teens. They may feel resentful at the thought of there being something wrong with them. Expect them to shut down the idea of counseling the first few times you suggest it.
Some teens take the idea of needing counseling as a personal attack on them. Try and explain to them that everyone can benefit from having someone to talk to after suffering a significant loss. It doesn't mean that they're in any way damaged or less of a person by seeking out therapy.
How You Can Help a Teen If They Reject Grief Counseling
When a teen’s deadset against getting counseling or receiving therapy, you may feel at a loss on what to do, especially when it seems as if you've tried everything to no avail. Forcing a teenager to get treatment isn't likely to motivate them to get better.
A teenager who feels forced to participate in therapy may not open up or actively participate in their treatment. However, this doesn't mean you should let them have their way and skip counseling altogether. Forcing your teen to attend a few sessions may work to ease them into the idea of therapy. Once there, trained therapists know how to maneuver around these situations when teens are reluctant to participate in their sessions.
Skilled therapists don't give up easily. They know how to talk their way into making a teen feel more at ease and comfortable about sharing their experience. A teen might keep up the facade that they hate therapy or their therapist when talking to their parents or caregivers while privately participating in their sessions.
Some teens don't like to open up and share their vulnerabilities with parents or other adults at home or school. However, they may enjoy their therapy sessions and their therapist without telling anyone about how they feel.
If your teen won't budge, here are some tips to help you talk to them to get them to agree to therapy.
Set the correct tone for the conversation
Avoid making your teen feel ashamed about their grief or grief reactions. When talking to them, let them know that it's normal to feel how they're feeling. Validate their emotions and gently suggest seeking the help of a therapist.
Make a contract with your teen
While you can't force a teen to participate in therapy, you can make it mandatory that they attend at least the first few sessions. Use your parenting skills to negotiate a winning agreement with your teen that benefits you both.
Enlist outside help
Consider asking a trusted relative or friend to talk to your teen, especially if it is someone they are more likely to listen to at times. Have them discuss the benefits of talking about what they're going through. Avoid the sales pitch approach. Ask that the conversation is kept both honest and realistic about what therapy is and isn't.
Explore online counseling
Your teen may feel more at ease getting the therapy they need through an online counseling source. Consider exploring therapy through video chat, email, or phone texting. These modern approaches to therapy are just as effective as the more traditional means of treatment.
Helping a Teen Through Their Grief
Grief counseling that’s specific to teens is available both in-person and online. Sometimes it’s all in the approach to successfully recommend that your teen get counseling. Most teens need extra support through their grief that only a trained counselor or therapist can give.