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Death And The Adolescent

A Resource Handbook For Bereavement Support Groups In Schools

By Grant Baxter and Wendy Stuart

Published by University Of Toronto Press
Publication date: February 1999
120 pp.
ISBN: 0802078125 (soft cover)


This concise and practical handbook shows how you can help teen students affected by death, including a complete outline for a ten-week school-based grief support group. The book is an excellent resource for parents, teachers, school counselors, pastoral care providers, and bereavement counselors seeking clear advice on how to conduct support groups in schools. Perspectives on various aspects of teen bereavement are given in enough detail to be of value to non-specialists without overwhelming the reader with academic commentary.

Following the death of a family member, close friend, or classmate bereaved students may show grief reactions that are easy to ignore or confuse with other causes. Academic performance may suffer due to difficulty in concentrating in class, attendance problems, daydreaming, and missed homework assignments. The resulting drops in marks or even failed classes can result in added tensions at home, where there may already be other problems. School nurses and family physicians may find no physical causes for symptoms of grief and depression such as insomnia and weight loss or gain. What can schools do to recognize these grief reactions and help these students?

A key feature of the book is that it provides a complete outline for conducting a ten-session school-based bereavement support group for teenagers. Detailed examples of exercises and discussion methods can be easily customized for specific settings. While a ten-week bereavement group cannot resolve all adolescents' grief reactions, participating in a well-run time-limited support group can encourage teens to seek additional help in the future if it is needed. Time-limited groups also offer the facilitators an opportunity to make a meaningful assessment of which young people may be having particular problems that would benefit from referrals to specialized resources.

The book is also useful for its intelligent handling of risk factors for teen suicide. The attention given to suicide is important both because the suicide of a student can be a traumatic event within a school, and grieving teenagers may experience suicidal feelings as part of their own grief reactions to deaths from any cause.

The premise of this book is summed up concisely in its Preface:

Professional and practical experience has shown that though the grief of adolescents is similar to that of adults... their grief is compounded by the normal issues of adolescence. They are dealing as well with the additional upheaval caused by their changing bodies, their struggle for independence, and the necessity of making important choices concerning their future. Adolescents also tend to feel misunderstood, and are preoccupied with many unanswered questions. They are looking for advice and comfort, and don't know where to get it. Bereavement support groups in the schools can provide such a place. (p. xii)

The authors make a clear case that adolescent bereavement groups work best if the young people work together to help each other, with appropriate guidance by a trained adult facilitator. Trying to work with parents and adolescents in the same group can result in the adolescents feeling betrayed. While most grieving teens want to help their grieving parents, they also feel that their own grief deserves special attention and that it is unfair to indirectly place them in the role of caregivers for their parents. For these reasons, groups optimized for teens make sense, and the handbook format makes it easy to replicate the models which the authors provide.

Table of Contents

1. An Overview
Grieving, Mourning, Bereavement; Grief Reactions; Normal, Reactive Grief; Griefwork; Sudden Death; Suicide; The Suicidal Adolescent; The Coroner's Office; When Bodies Cannot Be Recovered; Funeral Services; Thoughts On Adolescent Development
2. Forming A Group
Group Support / Grief Counselling; The Four Stages Of Group Dynamics; The Three Basic Groups; Getting A Group Started; The Ten Sessions; Typical Student Responses; Sample Logs; Sample Forms
3. Common Problems
Health; Hallucinations / Imagery; Suicide; Difficulties At Home; Visiting Hospital; Relocation; Post-Secondary Education; Student Check List
4. Case Studies: Grieving Special Losses
Survival Myth Or Hero Worship Syndrome; Inhibited Grief; States Of Family Renewal / Blended Families; Suicide; Taking On Disease / Illness; Unexplained Or Sudden Death; Humour; Hallucinations, Dreams, Flashbacks; Delayed Grief; Grieving Timetables; Death Of Siblings; Abortion
5. Ways Schools And Parents Can Assist
How Teachers Can Help; How Parents Can Help; Effective Methods Of Coping; When A Parent Or Sibling Is Terminally Ill; When A Teacher Dies; When A Student Dies; When There Is Life-Threatening Illness; The Principal's Letter; The School Yearbook; Planning A Memorial Service; The Service
Appendix 1: Religious Beliefs and Funeral Practices
Appendix 2: Research With Bereaved Teenagers
Appendix 3: Articles
Appendix 4: Community Resources
Selected Bibliography

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