Grief and Job Loss: Integrating Grief into Career Counseling Curriculum to Prepare Future Counselors

By Jen Hartman and Nathaniel Brown

Counselor educators are uniquely positioned to integrate grief and loss into career counseling courses. Currently, the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (2024) does not require course work on grief and loss, and counselors may practice without any formal training (Blueford et al., 2021). Given grief’s ubiquitous nature, counselors-in-training will inevitably engage with grieving clients; therefore, the need for purposeful instruction in grief and scaffolding within several counseling courses can help students understand grief and loss through multiple lenses (Bruner, 1961; Doughty Horn et al., 2013; Lazonder, 2014). One lens includes quantitative studies that have validated the presence of grief symptoms in job-loss samples (Papa et al., 2014) and distinguished job-loss grief from anxiety and depression (Papa & Maitoza, 2013), an important aspect to differentiate in the classroom. Kübler-Ross’s (1969) stage theory has been the most recognized theory for grief and loss, but it lacks empirical support (Corr, 2019; Ober et al., 2012). Such a discrepancy underscores the gap between evidence-based research and counselor preparation related to job loss. Loss is defined as “the real or perceived deprivation of something deemed meaningful” (Humphrey, 2009, p. 5). It occurs in death and non-death contexts. Conversely, grief is a natural, adaptive response to a real, anticipatory, or perceived loss (Harris & Winokuer, 2021).

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Dual-Process Model

In the counseling classroom, students benefit from guidance on how to address grief responses with clients. Connecting grief to job loss helps students bring career counseling out of the curriculum and into the real world, reinforcing the idea that career counseling is just as real, complex, and valuable as mental health counseling.

One evidence-based model that can be utilized to support students in their development in addressing grief is known as the dual-process model (DPM; Stroebe & Schut, 1999), which establishes a framework for conceptualizing, teaching, and practicing the diverse and dynamic ways people cope with grief. Although it was developed in the context of bereavement, the DPM has been researched with various non-death losses (Harris, 2020). The DPM acknowledges the active process of addressing and regulating grief through two key processes: loss-orientated coping and restoration-oriented coping. This theory-model supports individual and cultural differences, acknowledges the complexity of coping, and functions through oscillation between the two orientations (Gilbert & Macpherson, 2021; Stroebe & Schut, 1999). For example, loss-oriented coping includes confronting the job loss itself. Loss-oriented activities may include reading old work emails, looking at awards received, or ruminating on conversations with a former colleague. These coping behaviors avoid or deny the necessity of adapting to life after job loss. In contrast, restoration-oriented coping focuses on addressing secondary losses, such as loss of income or identity. Some examples may include searching for new jobs, meeting with a career counselor, or engaging in hobbies unrelated to work. Since oscillation is the key to healthy coping and serves as a “regulatory mechanism” (Stoebe & Schut, 1999, p. 216), neither one of these processes is more important than the other (Neimeyer, 2000).

Constructivist Approach to Implementing the DPM

In preparing counselors-in-training, counselor educators can integrate grief and loss education into career courses through reflective and experiential activities grounded in constructivism, which provide practical application and evidence-based research in pedagogy. Utilizing a constructivist approach in teaching involves creating space for conversations to challenge students to critically explore the concept of absolute truths (Binkley & Minor, 2021). The philosophical foundations of constructivism presuppose that the world is experienced uniquely by each individual; therefore, knowledge, rather than being factual, is co-created through intersection and conversation (McAuliffe et al., 2011). In one study, authors provided a thoughtful review of the literature related to traditional learning and experiential learning (Bonesso et al., 2015), concluding that both individual and group experiential learning opportunities were needed for students to gain competency. Having students create a personal career timeline serves as an example of a constructivist activity encouraging student engagement and meaning making.

Using Personal Career Timelines

When developing a personal career timeline, students are asked to identify and reflect on their most memorable work experiences or important relationships at previous jobs. This can introduce how career changes present losses. Some examples may include a work best friend, flexibility to work from home, or the type of work performed. These losses may have been (or continue to be) sources of grief. After reflecting on their own work histories and losses, students reflect on the experience in small groups. Questions to prompt discussion include:

  • What did you learn about yourself from this activity?
  • What experiences of joy, challenge, or loss stand out the most?
  • How might you use or modify this activity in your work with clients?

Role and Real Plays

Counselor educators can integrate current events and facilitate skill and empathy-building through role or real plays. For example, although COVID-19 disrupted working life for all people, one million women who left the workforce during the pandemic have not returned (Ferguson & Lucy, 2022). Working mothers—especially Black women and Hispanic or Latinx women—faced challenges as schools and childcare centers closed, resulting in decisions to leave the workforce, economic hardship, and increased caregiving responsibilities (Bateman & Ross, 2020). Students take turns playing both the client and counselor roles using career counseling theories and the DPM to address multiple needs. Role and real plays with reflection provide students with opportunities to gain experience working with clients grieving job losses, which is consistent with a constructivist teaching approach.

The need for educated and emotionally prepared counselors to provide grief counseling is great given the intersection of COVID-19 and racial discrimination. However, research indicates that counselors do not feel adequately prepared to work with clients experiencing grief (Blueford et al., 2021; Doughty Horn et al., 2013). Career counselor educators can use the DPM and constructivist pedagogy to address this gap so that counselors-in-training feel prepared and confident when serving clients experiencing job loss.



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Council for the Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs. (2024). CACREP 2024 standards. https://www.cacrep.org/for-programs/2024-cacrep-standards/

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Ferguson, S., & Lucy, I. (2022, April 27). Data deep dive: A decline of women in the workforce. U.S. Chamber of Commerce. https://www.uschamber.com/workforce/data-deep-dive-a-decline-of-women-in-the-workforce

Gilbert, K. R., & Macpherson, C. (2021). Contemporary grief theories. In H. L. Servaty-Sieb, & H. S. Chapple (Eds.), Handbook of thanatology: The essential body of knowledge for the study of death, dying, and bereavement (3rd ed.; pp. 282-307). Association for Death Education and Counseling.

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Jen HartmanJen R. Hartman, EdS, LPC, RPT, NCC, is a licensed professional counselor and counselor educator. Her research interests include death and non-death loss, including job loss. She is a doctoral candidate at University of the Cumberlands and serves on the Grief Counseling Competencies Task Force for the Association of Adult Development and Aging. jen.hartman@okstate.edu



Nathaniel BrownNathaniel Brown, PhD, CSWA, LMSW, LPC, NCC, is a licensed professional counselor, an assistant professor of clinical mental health counseling, and clinical director of field experience placement in the counseling program at Johns Hopkins University. His research interests include college mental health counseling and career development, grief and loss, and hidden student populations in postsecondary education.

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1 Comment

Larry Robbin   on Thursday 05/02/2024 at 04:14 PM

Thanks for the excellent and important article. I have extensive personal and professional experience with being a dislocated worker. Job loss is a killer.
A Yale study found that layoffs more than doubled the risk of heart attack and stroke.
A study from the State University of New York at Albany, found that a person who was laid off had an 83 percent greater chance of developing stress-related health problems like diabetes, substance abuse, ulcers, mental health problems and other issues.
A study in Pennsylvania examined death records during the recession of the early 1980s and concluded that death rates among high-seniority male workers jumped by 50 to 100 percent in the year after a job loss, depending on the worker’s age. Even 20 years later, deaths were 10 percent to 15 percent higher with those that had been laid off.

In our large dislocated worker program that served 14,000 workers, the number of suicides was one of the things that made it difficult to serve these folks. I ran the program and brought in mental health counselors to help prevent suicide and to support staff in dealing with this issue.

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