Nova Scotia

Dr. Stan Kutcher: grief counselling 'huge' business without regulation

A Dalhousie University psychiatrist says grief counselling is a big business and for some, immediately bringing in grief counsellors may not be the best course for those dealing with traumatic events.

Dalhousie psychiatry says grief counselling may not the most effective way to treat trauma

Dalhousie University psychiatrist Stan Kutcher says "for millennia … there are natural processes for healing that happen after traumatic events." (iStock)

A Dalhousie University psychiatrist says grief counselling is big business, however may not be the best course for some people dealing with traumatic events.

In the past week, two tragic events in Cape Breton have people thinking about how communities grieve.  

A recently retired firefighter died in North Sydney when he was hit by a police car. In Port Hawkesbury, nine-year-old Oaklee Bagley died after a house fire, which also left his mother in critical condition.

"We know that not expressing your feelings or bottling them up, keeping them hidden and silent, forced silence, isn't good for you," Dr. Stan Kutcher, who specializes in adolescent mental health at Dalhousie University, told CBC Radio's Information Morning.

"But we also know that the opposite isn't good for you ... being forced to talk about your feelings and relive the situation.

"We heal naturally. Some people have more difficulty and we need to identify and help those, but overall most people are resilient. Most people use their families, their friends, their communities for support."

Kutcher says grief counselling is a "huge" business without any kind of regulatory body.

"Go online and Google 'grief counselling courses' and you'll see a plethora of different pieces there — ranging all the way from university courses with counselling departments ...  to a diploma that you can get online and hang on your wall," he says.
Dr. Stan Kutcher specializes in adolescent mental health at Dalhousie University. (Courtesy of Dalhousie University)

"In fact, the other day I saw one that you could apply to and get a diploma in pet bereavement counselling. It's become a huge, huge business."

Kutcher says for millennia there's been natural process to help healing. Humans have developed both "internal resiliences" as well as community and family traditions to support people through trauma and loss.

"Those are the kinds of things we need to make sure we are doing," he says.  

Traditionally, grief support was provided through a place of worship, however in a more secular society, that has changed.

"About a decade ago, that got subverted into you have to have everybody, either you have to debrief everybody, you have to intervene — we now know that that kind of approach makes things worse."

Kutcher says, however, there is a point when further support is needed for those who suffer trauma.  

"We know of something called the 'acute stress response,' which is the normal response to a traumatic event usually starts to diminish between six and eight weeks after the event," he says.

"Now, when people are showing difficulties, emotional symptoms, problems in everyday life — at that point in time, then is a really good time to intervene, again, using things that we know work. Evidence-based therapies for example, cognitive behaviour therapy — pretty good evidence that it's effective. So those are the kinds of things that we should be putting into place."


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