Richmond in need of grief counselors after mayor declares gun violence a public health crisis


RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC)– Grief counselors in the Richmond-metro area say there is a shortage of mental health providers to support the community.

Karla Helbert, a licensed professional counselor and internationally certified yoga therapist, said most mental health providers are extremely overwhelmed because of the preponderance of grief in our society right now.

“Over half a million Americans have died of COVID. There is also so much grief around racial trauma, the ongoing pandemic, loss of jobs and homes, and not to mention all the other ways that people die and the resultant grief around this,” she said.

Helbert said the shortage of grief counselors presents the challenge of not enough therapists who are properly trained to support people who are seeking traumatic help.

“There is a lack of support and help, particularly around traumatic grief which goes unseen and disintegrated which can lead to other issues like experiential avoidance and shame,” she said.

She said it takes special training for therapists to become a grief counselor and the overwhelming cycle of grief in our society may be keeping them out of the profession.
“Mental health providers overall are at capacity. Not everybody who works with people in mental health is trained in dealing with grief and not every counselor wants to do that,” she said.
When those who are grieving don’t get the help they need, Helbert said it can affect different aspects of their life.
“When people are not able to get the help that they need that ends up affecting a person’s functioning ability on all levels and that transfers over into how they interact with their family members, how they interact at work,” she said.

The cycle can lead to other unhealthy and harmful things like overuse and misuse of alcohol, drugs as well as relationship, family and social problems, Helbert said.

She said her own loss called her to the profession years ago.
“My son died of a brain tumor in 2006 and when that happens it changes your whole perspective,” she said. “It’s universe shattering.”
With the outcry outweighing the support available, groups like the Broken Men Foundation are stepping in to help.
Ellery Lundy, the Founder, said they work with young men who have experienced abuse, incarceration and violence in their communities.
“When the program first started I went through something that a lot of times men don’t like to talk about,” he said. “You go through a hurt, a pain, a traumatic experience that does change you forever.”
The group holds discussions, trips and events to give back to the community. They also provide resources to its members to ultimately become better men, husbands, leaders and fathers.
“We just want to make sure that they leave a legacy and to let them know that we need them,” said Lundy.
The foundation’s Executive Director, Steve Clarke, said their program aims to centralize resources to make it convenient for people to get help.
“We like to work with the entire family as well because we’re just making sure that grief doesn’t impact them in a negative way,” he said. “A lot of times we do use grief to impact us in a positive way.”

The Broken Men Foundation begins its next session in September lasting through December. You can apply for the program and learn more here.

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