Reaching Grieving People in Communities of Color

grief candles

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.




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