Director, Grief Center of Southwest Colorado

Grief counselor sharing her story for Denver nonprofit

As a licensed professional counselor, Judy specializes in working with children, adolescents and their families around issues of grief, loss, and healthy attachments.  She was the director of children’s bereavement programs for Hospice of Mercy through 2007, has consulted with the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, is on the faculty of Fort Lewis College, and has a private therapy practice in Durango. Judy is a graduate of Northwestern University, The University of Colorado, and the Mindfulness Education Institute, and is a National Board-Certified Counselor, a Certified Child and Adolescent Trauma Professional, and a certified Mindful Schools facilitator. She is also a member of the National Alliance for Grieving Children, the International Association of Trauma Professionals, and the Association for Death Education and Counseling.

Judi’s House: Can you tell us a bit about yourself, your work, and the Grief Center of Southwest Colorado?

Dr. Judy Austin: I came into the grief field after experiencing a significant loss myself. I started out as a children’s grief coordinator for a local hospice in Durango where I live. Though we were affiliated with a hospice, we were very fortunate in that we could support any type of loss, and support both children and adults. Unfortunately, when our organization was purchased by a larger hospital entity, they did away with the children’s program. It was quickly apparent that there was a huge need for grief support in our community, particularly for children who had lost a parent due to sudden death. As a result, I founded the Grief Center of Southwest Colorado in 2009. We are a 501(c)3 and have steadily grown over the years to offer individual and group therapy for children and families in southwestern Colorado and northern New Mexico.

How has the Grief Center of Southwest Colorado collaborated with Judi’s House?

We have always looked to Judi’s House as a resource. Our organization is quite small and we think of ourselves as a “little sister” organization to Judi’s House. Our approach to grief support, and who we serve, are very much in line with their work. Judi’s House is a guidepost to other grief organizations around the country. Their work in producing the CBEM data is looked at as one of the best resources available for the field of childhood bereavement. 

In 2019 we applied to be a member of the Judi’s House “Childhood Bereavement Changemakers” (CBC) cohort and this year we have joined a second cohort where we are collaborating with other select childhood bereavement centers around the country. The CBC cohort is focused on collaboration and data collection, both from the Center for Disease Control, and from community observation. We are now working to improve documentation and data collection methods to help legitimize the work that we are doing and assess the impact of our grief counseling work to determine if our interventions are helpful for families.

I have found that the personal relationships I’ve developed with the Judi’s House team have really been invaluable. I find myself leaning on their wisdom and generosity frequently. Whether it is providing help with little things like sharing intake forms and other basic resources, to larger picture ideation and clinical approach, the team at Judi’s House has been an incredible resource for our team.

What do you think makes Judi’s House so unique?

I think there are several layers to what makes Judi’s House special. First is their focused approach on childhood grief, they really provide a dynamic, full spectrum care model including clinical therapeutic models for children and families, companion volunteers, and grouping of individuals by developmental age and death loss type to engender connection and to help people feel less alone. Many grief centers offer one specific care model, either clinical or peer support, so Judi’s House is quite unique in that it offers individually tailored therapy options to families.

In addition, Judi’s House is really the only grief center that is focusing efforts on childhood bereavement research. Their studies on the impact that bereavement has on children and their resulting needs is valuable data which continues to inform and influence care models for grief centers across the country.

What is your hope for the future of Judi’s House?

I hope that they can continue to operate both as a community support services organization, and as a leader and guidepost for other grief centers across the country. The leadership role and advocacy position that they have taken on in grief counseling is invaluable to other organizations and communities. Personally, my team and I are so appreciative of our relationship with Judi’s House. They have such an amazing team, the free services they provide to the community are incredible, and they have always made us feel very welcomed and appreciated.

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