Brianne Overton is a grief counselor in the St. Louis metro area, and recently spoke with Dr. Heidi Horsley at the Association of Death Education and Counseling conference. Overton specializes in working with kids and teens, particularly in marginalized and under-represented demographics. She welcomes patients in her office, but is also very active in community outreach, partnering with a variety of housing organizations and other agencies where she might connect with potential patients. “I call myself a traveling counselor,” she says. “A lot of my clients don’t have a means of traveling to me—I can travel to them.”

Dr. Horsley asked Overton about any differences in how people grieve based on culture. “I identify as a black female,” Overton says, “but I cannot say that all black females grieve the same way.” Instead, she takes culture into account during the counseling sessions, along with a myriad of other aspects. “If I go into someone’s home, I’m learning a lot about them,” she explains. That’s proven to be more enlightening than anything else.

Redefining “Counseling”

Overton aims to give her patients what they need based on what they actually need, not on what she thinks they need. Visiting patients on their home turf gives her many insights into how they may grieve and the structure of their life as it stands. Digging deeper, Dr. Horsley asks Overton if there have been any recurring themes in black communities and how they grieve. “I’ve had people ask me why people put names and pictures on T-shirts, and that’s an outward expression of our grief,” which is somewhat unique to black culture. It’s a tribute. “We grieve together…it’s a grieving community.”

Faith is another big factor for many people, including the black communities, during grieving periods. However, what really helps is simply sitting with someone and listening to their needs. There may be differences in how people grieve, and how counselors counsel, but at the heart of the matter we’re all the same.





Heidi Horsley

Dr. Heidi Horsley is an international grief expert, licensed psychologist, and social worker. She is the Executive Director and Co-Founder of the Open to Hope Foundation, one of the largest internet grief resources, with over 2 million yearly visitors. She hosts the award-winning Open to Hope cable television show and podcast. Dr. Heidi is an adjunct professor at Columbia University. She serves on the ​National Board of Directors for The Compassionate Friends, the largest peer to peer support organization in the world. She also serves on the National Advisory Board for the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS). TAPS has served over 50,000 military families who have suffered a loss. In addition, she serves on the National Advisory Board for the Elisabeth Kubler-Ross Foundation, and the Children's Brain Tumor Foundation. Dr. Heidi is on the VIP section of Marquis Who's Who in America, Madison Who's Who, and Who's Who of American Women. Dr. Heidi has co-authored eight books, including; Spouse Loss; Fresh Grief; Inspirational Stories for Handling the Holidays After Loss; Inspirational Stories of Healing After Loss; Real Men Do Cry; A Quarterbacks Inspiring Story of Tackling Depression & Surviving Suicide; Teen Grief Relief: Parenting with Understanding Support and Guidance; and Signs and Hope From Heaven. She has appeared on the ABC television show 20/20, has been interviewed by numerous media outlets, and has been a guest on hundreds of radio shows as well as quoted in dozens of media publications, including the Metro World News, Washington Post, Time Magazine, Newsday, Money Magazine, and New York Daily News. Dr. Heidi is also the author of numerous articles and academic book chapters. Dr. Heidi gives keynotes, presentations, and workshops throughout the country, and teaches continuing education workshops for health care professionals on support following trauma and tragedy. For 10 yrs., Dr. Heidi worked as a co-investigator for the FDNY-Columbia University Family Guidance Program; a study which looked at traumatic loss in families of firefighters killed in the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks. Through this 9/11 study, Dr. Heidi provided ongoing intervention and follow-up to firefighter widows and their children, and facilitated groups for bereaved siblings. In addition, Dr. Heidi supervised the school social work staff at Harlem Democracy Charter Schools in NYC for four years. Dr. Heidi's early career included work in a variety of clinical settings, including; Manhattan Psychiatric Center, California Pacific Medical Center Psychiatry Dept., University of San Francisco Mental Health Clinic, St. Lukes-Roosevelt Hospital Psychiatry Dept., and Hope Haven Residential Treatment Center in New Orleans. Her doctoral dissertation was on the sudden death of a sibling. Her academic credentials include a doctorate in Psychology (PsyD) from the University of San Francisco; a Masters degree in social work (LMSW) from Columbia University, and a Masters degree in mental health counseling (MS) from Loyola University, in New Orleans. Dr. Heidi splits her time between NYC and Tucson AZ.

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