Students at Sams

Wheaton Initiates Grief Counseling Group

Student Care at Wheaton College begins grief counseling for students suffering from loss.

James Phillips
Staff Writer

Although it’s not always obvious, some Wheaton College students suffer beneath the surface from the grief caused by losing someone important in their lives.

To confront this, the Counseling Center began its new grief support program earlier this week at the center’s office on the first floor of Armerding Hall.

Full-time counselor Valencia Wiggins said the purpose is to help Wheaton College students cope with “the loss of someone special in their lives.”

Grief counseling groups have existed at Wheaton in the past. This semester, the group is named New Beginnings and seeks to meet the large need for grief counseling on campus. Wiggins, the facilitator for each weekly meeting, is familiar with how the emotional effects of loss reveal themselves. She created the group this year in response to many recent, public announcements of individuals’ passing and many newly grieving students.

“I started again this year because I felt like the need has surfaced again,” Wiggins said. “I know that there’s been a lot of loss.”

According to the Counseling Center’s website: “A number of groups each year are coordinated around a common theme and provide both education and support for students who have had similar experiences.”

Groups are also centered on the issues that are most prominent on campus at any particular time. According to the website, “The focus of groups adjusts slightly each academic year in response to student need.”

Wiggins said that this is why the grief-counseling group has begun again.

“Sometimes (the group’s existence) is just based on the need of the campus itself,” Wiggins said. “There has been a lot of loss … students losing family members through death. … I just want to provide a safe space for students to process that loss.”

New Beginnings aids students in overcoming all types of grief. All students experiencing any kind of loss may participate, whether this loss is an estranged relationship or a death in the family.

The group is confidential. Wiggins said this gives the students a chance to learn “what grief is” through the process of what she calls “cycle education.”

Students share their stories with the intent that the group as a whole can gain an understanding of how differing layers of loss meld or correspond. The main outcome of the group is to process grief through continuing dialogue in a safe place.

Wiggins said this dialogue is a necessary tool in the healing process. The comfort of grieving in community helps the victim face his or her hurt.

Students concurred with Wiggins’ assessment of grief within the student body.

“I think that (the support group) would be a great idea if people would actually take advantage of it,” said senior Holly Meath. “I probably would have used it at certain times over the last few years.”

Senior Jason Kooiman said, “It’s good that this group is starting up. Wheaton really needs it.”

Wiggins said, “During the college years, you experience a lot. You need support. You go home, you go through the funeral, but then you have to come back to life here. … It can be a tough transition. This group provides that opportunity to talk freely and identify with each other.”

The group meets on Mondays and will continue to do so for the next seven weeks.

Photo Courtesy Joe Houghton

Printed in the February 1, 2013 issue of The Wheaton Record. Send comments to

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