As the owner of a private nursing service, Joan Etherton Cochran witnessed so many children grieving over the death of a parent that she decided to find a way to help them through such a challenging time.
She sold her business and enrolled in the Marital and Family Therapy program at Pacific Oaks but found little information on children's grief while conducting research for her thesis. "Ninety-five percent of the research on attachment, grief, and loss was on adults. I knew when I got midway through that the real focus needed to be on children," Cochran said.
The lack of information inspired her to open The Center for Grief and Loss for Children, which provides support groups for children and their families, and training for therapists, clinicians, teachers, and others to counsel youth. This was shortly before 9/11, when suddenly a national spotlight shined on children coping with the loss of a parent.
Under her leadership, the center has grown, garnering several awards, grants, and partnerships along the way. Cochran now has 17 therapists on her staff, a contract with the Los Angeles Police Department to have a therapist from her organization present when a child learns a parent has died, and provides free counseling services in a variety of settings, including homes, schools, Head Start programs, and hospitals.
Still intent on educating others about this issue, Cochran started an annual conference on children's grief and traumatic loss. Now in its seventh year, the conference draws professional mental health workers from around the country with a focus on preventing social workers from misdiagnosing grieving children with depression.
"Pacific Oaks gave me the venue to research this issue and helped me realize that there was so much more that we all needed to learn while encouraging me to do more," she said. "PO also taught me that you learn from everybody around you. It's not like you sit, they tell. I knew that in order for children to heal, I needed to learn from everyone else too."