Grief therapy is traditionally known for helping individuals and families when a loved one passes away. Pastors know this process well with funeral arrangements, coordinating food for after the service, and discussing proceedings while the loss is fresh and painful.

But grief therapy includes so much more than after someone dies. We want to explore specifically how pastors and mental health professionals could work together when crisis events like Hurricane Harvey come about.

Grief therapy can include the following:

  • being diagnosed with cancer
  • having a father that is experiencing the full effects of Alzheimer’s disease
  • being near the Aurora movie theater shooting and losing a sense of security
  • going to foster care or divorce with split parenting
  • losing every prized momento, house, and item due to a flood or fire

All are considered grief and loss.

Grief comes out in many different ways. Many would try to compartmentalize it as the five stages of grief that include denial, anger, negotiation, depression, and acceptance. Unfortunately, individuals are complex and wonderfully made beings so no one way can be predicted:

  • Many people may struggle with PTSD after Hurricane Harvey. This might include struggling with trauma being triggered every time a storm comes in for most of their life, the individual may become panicky, irritable, or react more severely than what would seem to dictate.
  • Because every person asks how things are going, you begin to become very busy or start to visit the bar more than is healthy.
  • Uncontrollable crying is not uncommon. Neither is statements of “I’m fine.”
  • Grades at school drop, work performance, and attendance become poor, and people isolate,
    sleep more, stop showering, and eat more or less than is appropriate.
  • Some even consider cutting or thoughts of wanting to commit suicide.

Grief comes out in many different ways… Unfortunately, individuals are complex and wonderfully made beings so no one way can be predicted.So how can you help when someone is in a crisis? While no one person responses to a crisis situation the same nor do any one person grieve the same, as a counselor, we treat the symptoms within the context of the person experiencing this loss. This process has been looked over and studied thoroughly.

  • Give understanding. We are not asking you to approve of the reactions because many reactions are not healthy. But acknowledge that you understand they may be grieving and do not make any initial judgment calls.
  • Listen. This means you are not fixing anything. That would indicate that you are a handyman, not a pastor, friend, or someone that cares. Instead, just ask questions so they can tell you more. Find out how they feel, even if it is obvious. Recognize when they cry or laugh.
  • Ask these questions: what was the worst thing about living in that house or being around that person you lost? What is your happiest memory with that car that’s gone now or when you were with your parents?What are you going to miss most?
  • If a person is harming themselves or thinking about committing suicide, have them see someone immediately. Do not wait, do not hesitate, do not wait and hope they get over it. If you need to, call the police. If they are willing to, go to a crisis center or Emergency Room to be assessed by a mental health professional.

What questions or other suggestions do you have about grief loss and what you can do for them?

Published by Jeremy Smith

Jeremy is a Licensed Professional Counselor working with adults and youth. Jeremy has a history of working as a ministry director for Youth for Christ for 8 years and then working as a mental health and substance use adult counselor in Ohio, specifically running an Opioid Residential Treatment Center.

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