Professors' book helps children cope with grief, loss

professors with bookWhen Jody Fiorini and Jodi Mullen found a need for counselors to learn more about helping children cope with grief and loss, they created a course. When they discovered a specific textbook for that course did not exist, they ended up writing one.

It started when Fiorini and Mullen, assistant professors of counseling and psychological services at Oswego, were looking for ways they could better prepare students and peers to address current issues.

“We did a survey a few years ago asking counselors what their top need for professional development was, and the answer was training in grief and loss, especially for children and adolescents,” Fiorini said.

This also dovetailed with what they noticed through their clinical practices, anecdotally and through student feedback. So they created a graduate course, “Counseling Children and Adolescents through Grief and Loss,” only to discover one drawback of charting new territory.

“We had students buying three different textbooks because there was nothing for this topic,” Fiorini explained.

“All the books on grief were specific to death,” Mullen added. “There was nothing specific to other losses kids face, like having to enter foster care or having a parent go away.” For instance, a growing need involves children whose parents are deployed on military missions.

They presented this topic at an American Counseling Association conference, which led to contact from a writer from the ACA publication Counseling Today. “We were interviewed about how students deal with sudden loss,” Mullen recalled. “The day after the article came out, we were contacted by a publishing company.”

The resulting work aims to help counselors assist youth dealing with grief and loss ranging from death of a loved one to divorce to moving. The authors also think it could help adults recognize that children need to cope with loss, since not expressing grief can do more damage.

“We hope this will allow people to have conversations about these issues with kids,” Fiorini explained. “We wanted to take away the taboo. We wanted to give people the tools to communicate about it.”

Mullen said she hoped that the book conveys the multiple losses children and adolescents can face and that it will help prevent adults from minimizing the grieving process for children and adolescents.

The book itself was easy to write structurally, since they could follow the course outline. They had many cases available through personal experience. One co-author would write up the case study—changing names and other identifying details—then the other would pen the analysis piece that followed.

It was, however, emotionally difficult sometimes. Both co-authors recalled crying while reliving some case studies.

Fiorini noted the importance of a chapter on how cultural factors impact the grieving process. Different cultures have different ways of observing grief and loss, but there are unstated rules people have to learn—both children and counselors trying to help those coping.

In addition, students in SUNY Oswego’s CPS program contributed to the textbook. The final chapter, “Selected Interventions,” features the results of class assignments. “That was really cool, because some of our students get their names in the book,” Fiorini said.

The authors will host a book signing at River’s End Bookstore in Oswego on March 23, combined with a fundraiser to support scholarships for Camp Good Days and Special Times, which helps bereaved children.

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Jodi Mullen (left) and Jody Fiorini, both assistant professors of counseling and psychological services at SUNY Oswego, look at their new book “Counseling Children and Adolescents through Grief and Loss.” The book is intended to fill a need to prepare counselors, and all adults, to help children coping with a variety of losses and the grieving process.

(Posted: Feb 08, 2006)