It seems like such a good thing, doesn't it, offering grief counselors to those who suffer a tragic event? After all, who doesn't want and need some comfort then? But research reveals that really we should leave it to the people who suffer to determine what if anything they need. Scientific American, in one of their "60 second science" features, reports on a study which appears to replicate the findings of a study from at least a decade ago in the UK -- namely that grief counseling after traumatic events may be more harm than help. Again this finding seems obvious if we consider that grief and other uncomfortable emotions are normal following such events. It is only when, by community consensus, such emotions and reactions persist and interfere with normal life that treatment may be called for. In this study
The researchers were studying the mental and physical toll of grappling with a community-wide trauma—in this case, 9/11. Shortly after the attacks, they offered participants an opportunity to share their thoughts. Some did, some didn’t. Two years later, the scientists found that people who kept it inside were better off than those who let it all hang out.
I've often wondered if these therapeutic rescuers might be driven by unrecognized wishes to play the hero in post-trauma dramas. In these scenarios, the objects of rescue are enlisted to play the sick role. Some will need help, but being pushed into the sick role isn't helpful.
I've had similar doubts about huge school events and deployment of armies of grief counselors after a student dies. Kids who didn't even know the deceased end up cast in the role of distraught mourner.
Wakes and funerals already exist to serve the immediate needs for recognition of loss and mourning. Participation in normalizing rituals is probably far more helpful than therapy in the immediate aftermath of such a loss.
This isn't to say that therapy for extended, disabling grief is never warranted. I've seen quite a few people who sought me out after a prolonged period of overwhelming grief that wasn't easing with time.
My experience has been that the grief in these cases has consistently subsided within 2-3 months of initiating therapy. Often these clients arrive at the second session reporting that they've already experienced significant relief, though they don't understand why that's the case.
It isn't that I do anything brilliant in these sessions. Rather, I believe that the ordinary social supports that foster healing have been absent or seriously deficient in many instances. Allowing these clients to talk, while gently exploring thoughts they've been reluctant to share in an unsupportive or judgmental environment, can be remarkably relieving.