Cover Story: In depth - grief counseling

By Jeff Atkinson - bio l email

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Members of the community Tuesday night gathering at Southside Park in Charlotte. They are honoring a popular teacher from Randolph I-B Middle School who was murdered.

Police found the body of Anthony Davis at his home early last week, two days after he failed to show up for school.

He was a business teacher at Randolph, a man with a reputation for mentoring, helping, and befriending his students.

Police arrested a former student Ashanti Bess.  Bess is facing charges connected with the crime.  A small memorial is one of the few public signs of a school community traumatized by violence.

Immediately after these tragedies, every school takes steps to address the problem.

It's been a week since this tragedy for Randolph Middle and we know they're still dealing with a lot of grief.  In our Cover Story, the path from tragedy to healing.

We always hear grief counselors are being brought in.. but what do they do? How do they help? And what kind of impact does a tragedy have on a school or business any workplace?

Not a week goes by it seems that there's not a tragedy of some kind somewhere.

A school shooting.

"We got in the corner, locked the doors," says one student.  "Everyone was screaming. Everyone was freaking out."

Students killed in a car crash.  A teacher murdered.  What happens when counselors are brought in?

Dr. David Spano is director of the Counseling Center at UNC Charlotte.

One thing he says researchers have found that's detrimental is bringing a big group together to talk it out.

He says, "In some cases it opens up the wounds too much. It might actually cause people to relieve that.. to deal with really raw feelings before they're ready to deal with them."

Best approach he says is let people choose when they're ready to talk about their grief.  It may be with classmates, family members, others in their lives.  Not everyone is going to need counseling.

"It's only when the grief is complicated or when there are affects on somebody's functioning that they often seek out counselors.

What are some warning signs for an individual to seek professional grief counseling?  Signs of being unmotivated.  Someone not bouncing back.  Depressed.  Unable to cope.

After a major event like a Virginia Tech or a Columbine does it affect the classroom?  What's the long-term impact of a tragedy on a school?

Dr. Spano says it's been inspiring to see how tragedy can bring people together.. in many cases they out perform - in tribute to the one they've lost.

"It's been amazing to watch how people will function so well after a tragedy with the kind of community support that's out there."

For students who've lost a teacher like what we've seen at Randolph Middle School last week, Spano says understand that there is no normal or abnormal way to grieve.  Everyone grieves in a different way.  What do they need to do?

"They need to be able to talk with each other. Remember that teacher. Laugh about the things the teacher did that were funny.  Live in tribute to the person who was an important influence on them."

What's the most common emotion grief counselors see?  The obvious - shock.  It's at those times people gather around family and friends.. others isolate themselves.

And while it seems we see a lot of incidents at schools experts will point out they are still some of the safest places.  They just tend to get all the media attention when they do happen.