Philppa Skinner presents on her research The death of a child by drug use: examination of the experiences of bereaved parents who volunteer to support others similarly bereaved.

To investigate a little-researched area of parental grief. There has been scant research either into the subject of loss through addiction or how supporting others may impact one's own bereavement process. The research asked why bereaved parents may volunteer to support others and what the role means to them. Parents' perceptions of positives and negatives of offering support were explored.

Research outline

Design/Methodology: This was a small-scale qualitative study using heuristic methodology. The researcher, who had experienced drug related loss and was explicitly part of the research, used purposive sampling to find participants. Four women and two men between forty and seventy years old responded; all had experienced losing a child to drugs between five and fifteen years ago. Semi-structured one to one interviews were conducted across a wide geographical area. The transcripts were examined using thematic analysis. .

Results/Findings: Findings were discussed under four themes: (1) experiences around bereavement, (2) on the way to becoming a supporter, (3) becoming a supporter, (4) looking after your own support needs. The overarching findings demonstrated that participants experienced their role as supporters as chiefly beneficial, helping them in their process of bereavement, in making meaning of the death and maintaining a continuing bond with their child. 

Research Limitations: The study was small scale, the sample purposive and consequently the results may not be generalisable across a wider bereaved population. All participants were white, British. The researcher's own experience will have subjectively influenced the work, a contested aspect of heuristic research.

Conclusions/Implications: The research demonstrates the complicated nature of these seldom considered bereavements, and gives counsellors insight into the value of peer bereavement support work, meaning-making in bereavement and participants' understanding of continuing bonds. It is useful to any counsellor who works with bereaved clients and especially those who work with clients who have experienced a socially difficult or stigmatised bereavement.

Presenter profile

Philppa Skinner, is a MA Student as well as a counsellor at the University of Chester.

Further information

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