Are there Stages of Grief?
Swiss-born psychiatrist, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, is considered a pioneer in the field of death and dying. Upon arriving in the U.S. in the late 50s she was shock and dismayed by the treatment of the dying and began a life's work that revolutionized the ways we think about death, and deal with the dying and their families. Her book, On Death & Dying ,describes "the five stages of grief", a framework depicting the phases we go through when grieving. The stages are based on her observations and interactions with grieving individuals and families. Famous people always have their detractors and Kubler-Ross is no exception. Some have derided her work and discounted the idea of stages of grief, while others have used her work as a springboard and developed their own bereavement theories.
The Kubler-Ross Model of Five Stages
This model of stages presents phases of grief that do not necessarily occur in any particular order. They may overlap and/or reoccur at different points in a person's life.
- Denial- the initial shock of emotional trauma, much like physical shock after an accident, cushions the blow, as the psyche represses the reality, allowing the person to gradually absorb the impact and ramifications of the traumatic event.
- Anger- intense anger, even rage at the loss or impending loss. The anger may be at God, oneself, or a loved one.
- Bargaining- the attempt to change reality by promising or sacrificing something. "I promise I'll never do this again."
- Depression- the realization that nothing is going to prevent the loss or grief. Any emotion (or lack of it) from apathy to despair might be part of this stage of depression.
- Acceptance- coming to peace with what has happened as well as a readiness to step into the future and live ones' live.
Biblical examples of the Five Stages
John Bowlby's "Four Stages of Grief" Model
John Bowlby was a noted British psychiatrist and psychologist, particularly known for his work with children. Out of this work he developed the now famous "attachment theory" that is taught in many academic programs on psychology. He also contributed to the body of work on bereavement, through his work with dying children and their parents.
- Shock & Numbness-
the stunned reaction to loss, including difficulty in concentration, impaired judgement and an inability to function normally. This phase may last for a few hours or several weeks.
- Yearning & Searching-
this stage involves a wide range of feelings, including guilt and anger, yearning for the loved one, and painful questions about the meaning of life and loss. There is a tendency to withdraw from others to allow this internal process to continue unhindered. This may last for months.
- Disorientation & Disorganization- a phase marked by depression and is usually a time when the loss becomes a reality, while the current state of living seems unreal.
- Reorganization & Resolution- an emergence out of the depression of the third stage, with increased energy and self-confidence and the ability to feel joy again.
Stages as a Framework
These are just two examples of stages of grief theories and share similar ideas. In my experience, they are each a useful framework in helping the griever. Very little of human nature is absolute and this is especially true when dealing with feelings. The stages may overlap, they may recur or one may be skipped all together. The important thing is it gives structure to the griever who finds himself in chaos. They are also helpful for therapists in assessing the grieving client. Duration and intensity of stages inform the clinician who can then be more helpful to the client.
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