Grief Counseling and the Dual Process Model

The normal grieving process is one of ups and downs.  In the initial raw phases of grief, emotions oscillate from extremes.  One moment, one may be sad, or angry, another one may find some sort of peace, only to find oneself again in deep emotional turbulence.  As time progresses, the individual begins to attempt to reacclimate into life, find meaning to the loss, and form new stories and relationships in life.  When this is successful, adaptation occurs.  This does not mean acclimation means there is no scar, no memory, or occasional tears, but it does represent an ability to exist with the loss and live life at a functional and successful level.

Healthy grieving involves a dual process of loss orientated and restoration oriented stressors that help us balance the loss in life

Throughout the medium phase of grief, as one struggles with the pain and adjusting to the new reality, one begins to balance focus between the loss itself and reintegration into life.  Time to grieve, but time to move forward is both a painful process, but a necessary one.  According to Margaret Stroebe and Henk Schut, a griever experiences a dual process model in which one deal with loss-orientated stressors or the primary loss and restoration-orientated losses that are secondary. One within this process, will oscillate between grief orientated tasks as well as restoration orientated tasks.  This shows the non-linear reality of grief and how one navigates the tricky waters of adjustment to a loss.

Within the loss-orientated grief work, the individual naturally focuses on the loss.  A person may have a bad day and reflect on the past.  He/she may reflect on the broken bond and the pain it has caused.  This can be done through reflection, crying, yearning, pictures or regressive traits of denial or avoidance.  These are not essentially setbacks but crucial parts of normal grieving.    Those who deny these emotions, deflect or ignore them, ultimately become stuck in the emotional phases of grief and develop complications within the grieving process.  Hence, this part is an essential element in the natural process of grief itself.

Within the restoration-orientated work, one focuses on new roles since the loss.  Sometimes, these roles are a result of secondary losses.  Positions or tasks held by the deceased, may now fall upon the bereaved.  In this process, the bereaved must leave the pain of loss-orientation and gradually deal with the secondary losses and re-orientation into life.  Whether it is paying the bills, cleaning, cooking, going to work, self care or exercise, one is forced to distract oneself from the pain within.  This involves discovering new roles or positions in life and adjusting to these changes despite the occasional set back.  As one reclaims old hobbies and habits and explores new activities that accompany the new journey, the bereaved is able to adjust to the loss and the new narrative.  As time progresses, these two dual functions balance the person into a proper adjustment.  An adjustment that recognizes the past, feels the past, but does not allow it to destroy the present or future.

“What’s Your Grief” points out one important core concept in this process.  Lista Williams states,

“If there is only one thing you take from the Dual Process Model of Grief it is this: it’s okay to experience grief in doses. At times you will face your loss head-on, others you’ll focus on fulfilling practical needs and life tasks, and once in a while you will need to take a break or find respite. This is partially why we talk so often about self-care.”

Williams.L. (2014). “Grief Theory 101: The Dual Process Model of Grief”. What’s Your Grief. Access here


Hence, the dual process of Stoebe and Schut recognizes a key element in the stages of grief that illustrate the back and forth between certain stages and the oscillation of emotions.  Some days, one may grieve harder than others without explanation, while other days, one may feel stronger and more goal orientated.  This does not mean one is grieving pathologically or that something is wrong with the bereaved, but is a natural process of adjustment.  This represents a natural ebbing and flowing of human emotion in response to loss.  One should not feel terrible for being sad or that one is not progressing according to standards, but instead realize some days are worst than others and we grieve in periods that are more intense and less intense.  In addition, when one is adjusting and having a better day, one should not feel guilty for feeling motivated or happy as if one is betraying the deceased, but instead realize they are learning to adjust.


Ultimately grieving is stressful.  It represents a serious adjustment with numerous stressors and emotions that can sidetrack oneself.  Many feel rushed to recover or that they are experiencing pathology in their grieving.  They feel grieving too long is bad.  Others may feel extreme guilt when days seem better.  It is important to have a strong understanding of the grieving process itself, its stages, but also its natural biorhythms that flow and ebb with emotion.  The dual process model captures this essence of grief and reminds grievers that grief takes time but it also differs from day to day as one adjusts through this stressful situation.  It also reminds grievers that while one may adjust to the loss and understand its meaning, that it still always has the possibility to sting and hurt.

The dual process model is key to understanding grief.
Please also review AIHCP’s Grief Counseling Certification and see if it meets your academic and professional goals.

The American Academy of Grief Counseling offers a Grief Counseling Certification that trains those within the Human Service, pastoral, counseling, and education fields in grief counseling.  Within the training, one will learn many of the grief models, including the dual process model and how they all come together to tell a deeper and more concise story about grief itself.  Please review the Academy’s Grief Counseling Certification and see if it meets your academic and professional goals.  The program is online and independent study and open to qualified professionals seeking a four year certification.

Additional Resources

Dembllng, S. (2023). “The Dual-Process Model of Grief”. Psychology Today.  Access here

Stroebe, M. & Schut, H. (1999). “The dual process model of coping with bereavement: rationale and description”  Death Studies.1999 Apr-May;23(3):197-224. doi: 10.1080/074811899201046.  National Library of Medicine. Access here

“Dual Process Model of Grief”. Counseling Tutor.  Access here

“The Dual Process Model:  An outline of Stroebe and Schut’s dual process theory”. (2021). Funeral Guide.  Access here