CLAYTON — Grief counselors, whose purpose usually plays out in confidential or private settings, have been brought out from behind closed doors and into the spotlight now that recent national and local tragedies have called them into action.
“We are a team of responders,” said Nicole Thompson. Thompson now works at Powhatan Elementary School as a guidance counselor, and she has worked with students in grades K-12 as a grief counselor for the Johnston County Schools for the past 15 years.
Last week, after the unexpected death of Clayton High senior Hogan Teem, grief counselors were on standby for students at the school who needed an ear to listen. Grief counselors can help make a tremendous difference in student’s lives, and she has witnessed it, said Thompson.
When Teem collapsed, many of his friends were in a state of shock. Unlike a wreck, or a drunk-driving accident, there was no explanation for what had happened. He collapsed during an off-season baseball team workout at Clayton High School.
Fifteen grief counselors were assigned to the school following Teem’s in addition to the regular guidance counselors who work at the school, according to Tracey Peedin Jones, spokeswoman for Johnston County Schools.
“Almost every single school, at some time, has experienced a crisis,” said Thompson. Whereas guidance counselors are an integral part of the school system at Clayton High, grief counselors are not called into action until there is a crisis. When the grief counselors are called in, they are instantly available.
“We don’t do anything different that what we are trained to do everyday,” said Thompson.
Their main job is to listen. Usually when a crisis happens, the school principal at the school that’s experienced the crisis will send out an e-mail to the counselors in the school system and ask when they are available, said Thompson. When counselors are brought in from other schools in the county, the principal at their home school works with them to be flexible so they can be available for students’ needs following the crisis.
At any time when the grief counselors are on site, students can go talk with them. “Coming one-on-one is more popular than coming in groups,” said Thompson.
She could not provide information of how many students sought out a counselor after Teem’s death but said that the fact that the counselors are constantly seeing students shows that they are being used and that they are needed.