Registration deadline March 8, 2013

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Penn is a pre-approved provider of continuing education credits for Pennsylvania Licensed Social Workers, Marriage and Family Therapists, and Professional Counselors. Participants licensed in Pennsylvania who attend the entire conference are eligible for 7 Continuing Education Credits. Participants licensed in other states should check with their licensing boards to determine continuing education approval.

The traumatic loss of a loved one profoundly challenges the thematic foundations that give meaning to the stories of our lives.  Together we will explore the challenges faced in traumatic bereavement, beginning with the shattering of our self narratives as survivors, through our efforts at retelling the narrative of the loss in some restorative fashion, reconstructing its meaning for our ongoing lives, integrating its broader spiritual or cosmic significance, and extending the story of our loved one’s existence in life-affirming ways.  Current research findings and practice implications will be discussed in reference to an actual case of traumatic bereavement.

Loss Across the Lifespan: Creative Strategies for Healing is brought to you by the Penn School of Social Policy & Practice's Alumni Council and Class of '54 Lecture Series.

Class of '54 Lecture Plenary Presenter

Robert A. Neimeyer, Ph.D., is Professor in the Department of Psychology, University of Memphis, where he also maintains an active clinical practice. Since completing his doctoral training at the University of Nebraska in 1982, he has published 25 books, including Techniques of Grief Therapy:  Creative Practices for Counseling the Bereaved and Grief and Bereavement in Contemporary Society: Bridging Research and Practice (both with Routledge), and serves as Editor of the journal Death Studies. The author of nearly 400 articles and book chapters, he is currently working to advance a more adequate theory of grieving as a meaning-making process, both in his published work and through his frequent professional workshops for national and international audiences.  The recipient of the MISS Foundation’s Phoenix Award:  Rising to the Service of Humanity, Neimeyer served as Chair of the International Work Group for Death, Dying, & Bereavement and President of the Association for Death Education and Counseling.  In recognition of his scholarly contributions, he has been granted the Eminent Faculty Award by the University of Memphis, made a Fellow of the Clinical Psychology Division of the American Psychological Association, given ADEC’s Research Recognition and Clinical Practice Awards, and designated an Honored Associate of the Viktor Frankl Association for his career contributions to the study of human meaning.

Conference Schedule

8:30–9:00am Registration
9:00–9:15am Welcome – Dean Richard J. Gelles

Techniques of Grief Therapy: Processing the Event Story of A Death Robert Neimeyer, PhD
Particularly when death is sudden and traumatic, survivors often struggle with making sense of what has happened, at levels ranging from the practical to the existential.  In this presentation we will consider techniques for helping the violently bereaved process the “event story” of the death itself, anchoring such work in both contemporary meaning reconstruction and dual process models and related research.  Drawing on clinical videos of clients contending with losses through homicide, sudden accident and suicide, we will learn to listen between the lines of the stories clients tell themselves and others about the death to grasp more fully the unvoiced meaning of their grief, and how we can help them integrate the event story of the death into the larger narrative of their lives.  Participants should conclude the session with a clearer appreciation for the challenge to meaning and spirituality associated with violent death bereavement, and an expanded toolbox for using metaphor, body work and a variety of narrative procedures for helping clients make sense of the loss and their response to it.

Learning outcomes:

  • Implement restorative retelling and situational revisiting procedures for mastering the event story of the loss
  • Differentiate between forms of directed journaling that foster self-immersion and self-distancing to modulate emotions evoked by the death
  • Describe narrative techniques for accommodating loss in literal and figurative ways into the changed narrative of the client’s life
10:45–11:00am Break
11:00–12:00pm Techniques of Grief Therapy: Techniques of Grief Therapy: Processing the Event Story of A Death Robert Neimeyer, PhD
12:00–12:30pm Finding Meaning In Ambiguous Losses – Lara Krawchuk, MSW, LCSW, MPH
Though we often associate grief with death this limited viewpoint woefully fails to recognize the intense grief that can follow a loss that is ambiguous, ongoing or incomplete.  Intense grieving frequently accompanies a huge range of ambiguous losses, but our clients are often totally unaware that some of their intense distress is grief.  The concept of Ambiguous Loss allows us to normalize the intense struggle of attempting to make meaning out of losses that are unclear or lack closure.  Together we will learn to identify Ambiguous Loss in our own clients and will explore how to apply concepts from contemporary grief theory to help these often challenging clients heal.
12:30–1:15pm Lunch break – boxed lunch
1:15–2:30pm Breakout sessions

Artful Grief: A Mother’s Healing JourneySharon Strouse, MA, ATR, CIH
Together we will explore Sharon's decade long journey of healing as she makes sense of her daughter's violent death, forges a new identity  and returns to life.. Ten of Sharon's spontaneous collage creations are presented within the framework of Meaning Reconstruction. Images and excerpts from her journals offer a compelling, compassionate approach to healing. Participants will have the opportunity to experience the transformational use of images in healing through the making of their own collages.  Although Artful Grief highlights a healing journey in response to a death by suicide it is applicable to those suffering through other traumatic life experiences.


The Elephant in the Room: Communicating with Older Adults about Death – Rebecca Weinstein, MSW, LCSW
The end of a life is a complex time for older adults and families to face, so too are the conversations (or lack there of) surrounding death and dying. Barriers to effective communication about end-of-life wishes are unique for each family system. Holocaust survivors' unresolved emotional scars, trauma, and loss often re-emerge as they face deteriorating health conditions that may activate repressed painful memories and experiences. The second and third generations are simultaneously influenced by the survivor's unique challenges in coping with loss as they explore their own sorrow and anticipatory grief. Helping professionals are often called upon to navigate families through difficult emotional terrain of life's end. Together we will begin to explore how to adequately support families when dying is complicated by historical traumas. We will begin to discuss creative techniques for facilitating important conversations between dying older adults and their loved ones.


Supporting Grieving Children – Laura Hinds, MSW, LSW & Tony Morelli, LSW, CT
Children grieve, but they are not little adults.  Too often families and helpers do not know how to adequately support children following a significant loss.  What do they need, how can I help, what should I say, when and where should I bring it up?  In this workshop will explore the unique needs of grieving children and adolescents.  We will also experience firsthand the healing power of creative interventions that can easily be tailored to a wide range of practice settings.


Treating Trauma – Phyllis Kosminski, PhD & Ray McDevitt, LCSW
Research has shown that trauma has long lasting impact on human beings.  Together we will discuss the nature of trauma and the intersection between trauma and loss.  We will explore creative techniques for helping individuals cope with and recover from trauma. Using case examples, we will illustrate the use of clinical interventions, as well as techniques that can provide short-term relief to clients.  Participants will have an opportunity to practice self-help techniques that can be taught to clients and used to moderate traumatic re-experiencing and emotional reactivity.


When Illness Strikes Young:  Facing Loss in Early Adulthood – Lara Krawchuk, LCSW, MPH
Young people are expected to be healthy!  When physical illness arrives in early adulthood it can shake the very foundation of the known and expected world. Ambiguous loss, chronic sorrow and disenfranchised grief are poignant concepts in a world turned upside down by illness.  Learning to make meaning out of chaos can be daunting.  Together we will explore the individual and familial impact of illness in Early Adulthood and will explore several creative healing techniques to support clients learning to live when illness strikes young.

2:30–2:45pm Break

Techniques of Grief Therapy: Accessing the Back Story of the Relationship – Robert Neimeyer, PhD
Death may end a life, but not necessarily a relationship.  Drawing on attachment-informed and two-track models of bereavement, we will begin by considering grieving as a process of reconstructing rather than relinquishing our bonds with those who have died.  Clinical videos bearing on the death of parents, children and spouses will sensitize participants to various impediments to revisiting and reorganizing the “back story” of the ongoing relationship with the deceased, as well as to several techniques that can help move such work forward.  Creative narrative, emotion-focused and performative methods will be presented and practiced for re-introducing the deceased into the social and psychological world of the bereaved and working through issues of guilt, anger and abandonment triggered by the death and the shared life that preceded it.  Participants will leave with several tools for re-accessing and revising frozen dialogues with the deceased that hamper post-loss adaptation.

Learning outcomes:

  • Describe two procedures for detecting obstacles to accommodating the loss deriving from invisible loyalties to the loved one
  • Practice two techniques for consolidating a constructive bond with the deceased as the client transitions toward a changed future
  • Choreograph imaginal dialogues between the client and the deceased to reaffirm love and resolve residual conflicts and disappointments
4:45–5:00pm Wrap-Up and Evaluations