The Role of Personal Experience with Death Related Grief Among Counselors Working with Grieving Clients

Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Counselor Education and Counseling Psychology

First Advisor

Dr. Mary L. Anderson

Second Advisor

Dr. Stephen Craig

Third Advisor

Dr. Jody Brylinsky


Counselor education, grief and loss, death-related grief, grounded theory, death education, grief counseling


Counselors regularly engage in grief counseling with clients following the loss of a loved one, regardless of their training to work with issues related to death and grief. Instead, many counselors may rely on their own experiences with death and grief while working with grieving clients. While prior research has identified the use of personal experience to inform grief counseling practices, there is a scarcity of studies which explore how the personal experiences of counselors who have experienced grief inform their work with grieving clients.

This qualitative study explored the experience of 12 Licensed Professional Counselors (LPC’s), who have previously experienced grief, and who are now working with grieving clients. Each participant was interviewed about their experiences with grief and how those experiences influence the work they do with clients who are grieving. Grounded theory analysis was utilized to generate a theory to help provide an understanding of how the participants of this study practice grief counseling with clients who are grieving. The theory titled Factors that Influence Counselors Who Have Experienced Grief Engaged in Grief Counseling emerged following grounded theory analysis, and is comprised of eight themes that emerged from participants regarding their work with grieving clients.

The eight themes identified in this study are: 1) personal experiences of grief; 2) training in grief counseling; 3) religion and spirituality; 4) meaning making; 5) societal norms; 6) way of being; 7) acknowledging the experience of grief; and 8) actions. The findings of this study provide a meaningful contribution to the field of counseling by providing a groundwork for understanding influences for counselors who have experienced their own grief as they work with grieving clients. This study serves to fill gaps in the literature, as the majority of studies related to death and grief in counseling focus on clients and counselors-in-training rather than the professional counselors providing counseling services. Implications for Counselor Education and future research are also discussed.

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