As a Financial Counselor, if you have never gone through the process of grief yourself, then you may find it difficult to know what to say to, or how to work with, a client who is currently grieving. The first step is to understand some of what your client is experiencing.
Grief is different for every person and for each loss they experience. However, some best practices can be applied when working with nearly all grieving clients. As a counselor, it is also important to be aware that the process of grief does not happen in a sequential order of stages, and it does not have an exact end date.
When a grieving client works with you, s/he may appear to be okay on the outside, but it is imperative that you realize what can be going on just barely beneath the surface. Unlike having a physical injury, which is visible and easy to identify, a grieving client carries their trauma internally.
At any time that a grieving client is sitting in front of you, s/he may be dealing with any or all of the following issues: shock, devastation, confusion, lack of memory, cognitive impairment, unbearable pain and sadness, uncontrollable crying, feeling scared that other people they love or they will die soon, frustration, exhaustion, panic, anger, urgency to get things done in case they die soon, or lack of knowledge of how to manage the finances. Feelings of isolation can occur very quickly, if family or long-time friends avoid the grieving person. This may leave your client feeling a significant lack of support, caring, and understanding.
So, the question is: how do you work with a client who is experiencing these complex emotions?
Be as kind and as gentle with them as possible. Use a great deal of patience with them as you may need to repeat yourself several times before the information you are trying to relay registers fully with them. You may even want to block off extra time on your schedule when working with a grieving client to accommodate for this, or for a conversational diversion.
Tune in to the needs of the client. If they need to talk about their grief or the deceased person some, let them (which is usually what grieving people need most – just to express their feelings). By simply letting them talk, you are acknowledging and validating their feelings. There is no need to say anything other than affirming that you hear them. There is no advice you need to give as there is nothing that will take away their pain or make them feel any better. You only need to let them feel whatever they feel and let them share it. Although you may eventually need to gently guide the conversation a bit to help them stay on the track of finances, this is not the time to force the conversation in any way.
If necessary, provide resources for private grief counseling and/or a grief support group. Being around other people who can understand what a person is going through, and also having the chance to share feelings, pain, love, and experiences, helps to make the burden of grief just a tiny bit ‘easier’ to carry.
Guest Contributor: Lynn Thibeau, AFC®