Basic Principles of Counseling: Focusing on Grief

Wendy Lane. LMT, MSW, recaps a staff training on the Basic Principles of Counseling: Focusing on Grief taught by a professor of Counseling and Educational Psychology, Dr. Thomas T. Franz.

Wendy Lane

If you were a fly on the wall of a recent training class at Adoption STAR you would have seen a lot of lightbulbs going off in the heads of many of the staff. We were saying to ourselves, “Now I get it! Things are becoming clearer!”.

The following example was one of my lightbulb moments when Dr. Frantz touched on the emotion of anger. A year or so ago a client, who I will call Marie, was feeling angry with the couple with whom she placed her child. We brainstormed and agreed that one way to get out her anger was to play Wii tennis and think about what she was angry about whenever she played. She did this, which really made her laugh, and feel better after her tennis session. She now does this when is frustrated with them and it helps her to not take her frustration out on them or on her boyfriend.

The staff at Adoption STAR was lucky enough to have the opportunity to attend a staff training by Dr. Thomas T. Frantz. Dr. Frantz is a recently retired professor of Counseling and Educational Psychology at the State University of Buffalo. He is also the founder of the Life and Death Transition Centerand has founded or co-founded many other bereavement groups throughout Western New York. Dr. Frantz spoke to us about Basic Principles of Counseling: Focusing on Grief. The staff really enjoyed this training and this blogpost is an attempt to share a sample of what we learned.
Dr. Frantz touched on the emotions of fear and anger. Fear can be paralyzing and is usually about the unknown, the new or the different. We don’t fear the past, as that has already happened. We don’t have fear about the present moment because we are living it. Our fear is about what will happen in the future. The more information people have about what will happen in the future, the less fear they will have. In other works, knowledge reduces fear. Knowledge doesn’t always eliminate fear but it often lessens the fear.

The second emotion he touched on is anger. Anger, often stems from feeling of hurt or feelings of vulnerability. It is important for the listener to acknowledge that anger, and either explore those feeling of hurt or to suggest ways to deal with the anger. Dealing with anger doesn’t mean that you have to express it to the person you are angry with directly. For example, anger can be expressed during exercise, screaming into a pillow, or writing in a journal. Anger can be expressed many ways but it is important to think about those hurtful feelings while you are expressing it, this will help to release that emotion.

Dr. Frantz stressed that the best counseling environment is one in which someone feels comfortable and safe enough to talk and/or to cry. These are both healthy ways to handle emotions. There is some evidence that the substances in our sad tears are more toxic than the substances in other kinds of tears. It is good for people to talk and to cry to get those negative emotions out of their bodies.

The importance of listening was one of the biggest take-aways. For a variety of reasons, listening is the most potent healing tool we have. Listening involves a transfer of energy. The energy in the emotions of what people say gets released when they are able to talk. When we listen in a caring way, their negative energy gets released, even if just a little, and our caring energy replaces it. Listening is at the core of any positive counseling interaction.

Dr. Frantz emphasized the importance of normalizing feelings of those who we are counseling. Everyone deals with their emotions differently; however there are many patterns workers in the field of adoption see quite often. It is helpful to share this with people who are going through a stressful situation. Hearing from someone in the field of adoption that what they are feeling is normal, can sometimes eliminate the stress they were having about their feelings. Mentioning that other people have gone through similar things helps people realize that they are not different but rather dealing with stress they way many other people have. This can eliminate a part of the stress that they are feeling. Often when people realize that what they are feeling is normal you can almost see a visible relaxation reaction to this information.

Lastly, Dr. Frantz addressed the concept of internal noise. Internal noise involves what is going on consciously or subconsciously in our heads while we are attending to a client. When listening to a client we need to ensure that we are really listening. We must try to eliminate thoughts about unrelated issues and eliminate any subconscious judgments we feel about what the client is saying. If we don’t turn off that internal noise we are going to miss the true meaning of what our client is saying or feeling. Clearing our internal noise allows us to better empathize with our clients.

The staff got a chance to slow down and reflect on the ways in which we work with clients. We also were able to relate the general concepts Dr. Frantz addressed to adoption-related issues or specific interactions we have had with clients. The people who work at Adoption STAR are very dedicated to their jobs and are open to ways we can improve our skills. And, of course, it is always nice to hear confirmation about the things we do that are effective.

I must now confess that I had a vested interest in this training as Dr. Tom Frantz is my dad. I have listened to him talk for 42 years and believe he’s a pretty smart guy!

Read More about Adoption STAR staff and their families: A Portrait of Open Adoption, Part 1, A Portrait of Open Adoption, Part 2, One Family Two Different Adoption Plans, Second Chances, Birth Mother Celebration ’13: Recap, How Open Adoption Impacted a Recent Medical Scare

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