The world of audiology has changed dramatically since I started in this field in 1963. I was fortunate to have a wonderful mentor, David Luterman, who helped me to understand the role of grief for audiologists and for the families we work with.
The work of Kris English, Johnnie Sexton, and others has made it clear than many audiologists do not receive coursework or training in dealing with grief. Dr. Luterman certainly helped me and others to recognize the importance of identifying and understanding grief. Most of the efforts involved dealing with grief involves helping families. Very little effort was directed to the grief that clinicians faced.
Grief and Audiology
As a young audiologist, in the beginning most of my efforts were to accurately identify hearing loss. But as I worked in the field I became a better audiologist, and was more involved in all of the work with families – including therapy, educational programs, and support groups. I began to understand all that was involved managing hearing loss.
As I became more and more involved with families and as I had children of my own, I had a more and more difficult time giving families the diagnosis of hearing loss. It wasn’t that I was not optimistic because I was. I knew that children with hearing loss could grow up to be whatever they want to be.
I was fine with the families. I could talk with them and help them understand what the diagnosis meant and what their choices were. But I often went into my office and was teary. The staff I worked with often recognized it and knew I had given some family the diagnosis.
I didn’t think that there was something wrong with having a hearing loss. It was just that I knew how hard these families were going to have to work. But I also knew – certainly in the early years when technology was very limited – that children would have to really work hard to learn to listen and talk. As time passed and technology improved, as hearing aids became more powerful and had a broader frequency response, as cochlear implants were developed, and with the introduction of newborn hearing screening which could identify hearing loss at birth, it was easier to give families a diagnosis hearing loss. We knew that things would be easier than it had been in the early years.
Families didn’t know the difference but those old clinicians, like me, recognize how things have changed
It is important that all audiology students have at least one course on all issues involved in understanding grief. We all need to recognize our feeling and how to deal with our feelings when we work with families.
Until we recognize our feelings we cannot help families deal with theirs.