Grief and Bereavement Stages

Freud loved to speculate. He was brilliant, but would make passing comments on things outside of his major areas of research and his followers often considered these side comments as profound as his life’s work. Freud’s comments on “grief work” were of this sort. There was no research basis for them, but the concept has become part of popular culture and people often think of grief as a work process.

Add to grief work the concept of “stages of mourning”, developed by Kübler-Ross while NOT working with those mourning the deaths of others, but with terminal patients. Kübler-Ross took this work with terminal patients and assumed that it would apply to those individuals suffering through the deaths of others, arguing that:

. . . bereaved people pass through five distinct stages of mourning: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance. Kübler-Ross assumed that each stage was as essential component of the mourning process and that most bereaved people work through the struggles inherent in each stage before moving on to the next one” (p 21)

[Bonanno, G. A. (2009). The other side of sadness: What the new science of bereavement tells us about life after loss. Basic Books.]

The effects of these popularised ill-considered concepts include that people consider themselves abnormal if they don’t progress through all of these stages and others often attempt to compartmentalise the bereavement of others into work and stages. These attempts are often less than helpful.

If you or someone you love is grieving, don’t try to enforce pop psychology on their unique mourning process. Be there for them and get the best information you can to help them, including books like The other side of sadness: What the new science of bereavement tells us about life after loss.

I will be discussing some of the ways Narrative Therapy deals with grieving in future posts.