The loss of a child has profound and long-lasting effects on a parent and within the family. Whether a parent experiences loss through miscarriage at anytime during pregnancy, stillbirth, infant death, or older child death, the impacts, grief, and difficulties people experience are similar in intensity and length. If you are someone who has experienced child loss reading this post, know that your grief is valid, your emotions -- no matter how long ago your child's death -- are still valid, and despite how it may feel, you are not alone.
The kind of support you receive in the short- and long-term period after you lose a child is critical to how you cope with and function in spite of the loss. Even in the most supportive of environments, with help and love from family and friends, participating in professional therapy to discuss and deal with the death of a child can provide tremendous benefits in your day to day life and future. Therapy is available in many forms, and often is covered by insurance or can be provided at low or discounted rates if necessary. Before committing to a certain kind of therapy, it helps to understand the differences in approach and treatment. In recognition of Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month this October, we've outlined the most common types of therapies helpful for coping pregnancy and infant death below.
Grief or Bereavement Therapy - Grief/bereavement counseling/therapy looks specifically at loss and works by helping you address and acknowledge your loss and grief, and work through the stages of loss so that you can cope with the changes and eventually find a place for your loss and continue to handle daily life.
Family Therapy - Family therapy is type of psychotherapy that works to improve interactions within the family by helping with communication and resolving issues. Ideally, all or most family members will be present during sessions, but it is not necessary. Family therapy looks at patterns or systems that need adjusting, instead of looking at problems within an individual person. Family therapy sessions should be led by a psychologist, clinical social worker, family marriage therapist, or licensed therapist with specific training and skills in family therapy. For child loss, family therapy can help address how the loss has impacted the family's functioning together as a unit.
Support Groups - A support group for pregnancy and infant loss consists of a regular meeting of a group of people who also have experienced loss, led by a coordinator who has likely had some training or education in infant loss, and may also have personal experience. While a support group is not the same level and intensity as professional therapy, it can be immensely helpful to those who have experienced miscarriage and child death. Many find peace in the reciprocal sharing of thoughts and feelings of others, which can aid in healing. Support groups usually are free to attend and can be found all over. Find in-person support groups for pregnancy and infant loss through Pregnancy After Loss Support, Pregnancy Loss and Infant Death Directory, and Share. Online and phone support can be found at First Candle and on the list of websites shared at Healing Hearts.
You will find that there are many professionals trained to provide therapy, including counselors, social workers, therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists. The terms/roles are not interchangeable but signify the type of education, licensing, and credentials the person has obtained. What is most important in finding therapy for pregnancy and infant death is not necessarily the type of professional you find, but their specific experience, education, and skills set in helping individuals work through child loss.