I had my back to my office door as I was pounding away on the computer, writing parent permission letters to attend a grief group.  After sensing a presence, I turned and saw a student standing there, somber, yet alert and extremely pensive.

“Hi, I’m Mrs. J.”  I smiled, staying seated, somehow believing it was best for him to remain in a taller position than I was at the moment.  Silence bellowed, yet no movement from the student.  His eyes went to the floor and his body seemed to invisibly shake.  The unspoken words continued but the body of the student did not budge.

I continued, “I was just going to grab a snack. Would you like to sit down for a minute while I get it?”   I keep an orange in my desk drawer when I need some food.   “Would you like some?”

Food usually works to promote safety and comfortablity and this approach sets trust in motion because there is no pressure or standard question, “What do you need?  How can I help you?  Why are you here?” Oranges in the desk — a counseling tool!

While I peel it, the clients (aren’t our students, staff and families our clients?) can watch something and not look at me, and it smells heartwarming.  Rarely do they eat with me, but they watch the orange go to my mouth. I grab their eye contact and say, “Has something awful happened you could tell me about?”

Though all students don’t need encouragement,  most visitors living grief do. To be young and living grief is overwhelming — though the “Visitor of Grief” is overwhelming at any age!

Some visitors will walk into your office, sit down and converse for 45 minutes and you have to lasso the session to a close. Others are defiant, confused, depressed, sad.   It is our job and responsibility to help those at school who need our counseling services to recognize what is going on inside their hearts, listen to it,  identify it, and look at what can be done about it.

Students need a grief zone at school; let it be your office.

Karen O. Johnson

Karen Johnson

Karen O. Johnson, M.Ed. began grief group counseling in 1981 with ten teens experiencing the death of a parent. Since then, she has worked with a large population of youth, families, and adults coping with loss as an individual and group counselor. Over the span of 35 years in the education industry, she has held various positions in elementary, secondary and post-secondary education including: teacher, counselor, principal, crisis team member and director and crisis line counselor and director in the Jordan, Murray, and Salt Lake School Districts in Utah, and the Texas Independent School District. Currently, Karen is the Area Chair, Lead Faculty in the Social Sciences Human Services Program at the University of Phoenix. Karen is also the founder of EveryDayGrief, LLC, a company offering seminars for helping professionals, where innovative techniques are shared to positively impact the grief journey of youth and adults. Along with counselor trainings, she runs grief support groups.

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