Grief Counseling and the Models of Grief
As a grief counselor , a pastoral thanatologist , or a spiritual counselor one should be aware of the natural psychology of human grief. The fundamental aspect of grief is loss. This is the reality of the human condition. Within this condition, the happiest moments, most beloved persons, most treasured objects, and desired outcomes are all temporary in this plane of existence. Anything gained can be taken within a moment; the rich man and his countless millions can be stolen in the night by the thief, the loving husband can lose his devout wife to the careless swerve of a drunk driver, or a great athlete can have his career ended with a sudden snap of his leg. Happiness in this fallen world is always balanced by the cruel joke of loss. Grief is the response to this loss and the reaction to loss of attachment. While subjective responses vary, the human condition universally and objectively reacts in a general manner or fashion. The following lists some of the general reactions that are common but not always particular to most people.
Grief Counseling Kubler Ross’ Five Steps
Kubler Ross is one of the preeminent scholars and pioneers of the psychology of grief. Her five step model has served as one of the most trusted guides to following the trajectory of grief. The first step according to Kubler Ross is denial. The second step is anger. The third step is bargaining. The fourth step is depression or mourning. The final step is acceptance. Within the normal grief cycle these primary steps should be accomplished within the first couple months-although the more intense the attachment, the greater the mourning process. In some cases, complicated grief can result when the depression state lingers well beyond the average grace period. Within Kubler Ross’ process of normal grief, one can see a natural progression to mourning and final acceptance. Within that acceptance comes the remedy for healing where the event or loss is recognized and the soul can finally begin to form new meaning regarding its life’s narrative. In addition to this, following acceptance, the person can then better relocate and integrate the memory of the lost person into his or her life story.
Grief Counseling and Worden’s Four Tasks
Another process is Worden’s Four Tasks. Again one can see a similar paradigm that traces human emotion. The primary difference is only the purpose of the process. This was created primarily for grieving widows that Worden counseled and treated for depression. Yet, his four tasks still can be applied to any human loss. Worden’s first task is to accept the reality. A widow who would have reached the first task here would have naturally gone through the process described by Kubler Ross to reach this point. The second task is to work through the grief. Just because acceptance has entered into one’s heart regarding a loss, one cannot deny the continuing grief that permeates one’s essence. The grief is unpredictable. Like the harsh winds and torrents of a storm, sometimes it falls harder, while on other occasions, there seems to be a momentary ease, only again to resume the heavy downpour. This is the nature of the grief process, it has troughs of up and down that cannot be dismissed, ignored or wished away. As Worden believed, they must be faced even in the darkest hour and worked through. This process is necessary for the soul to mourn, and if not a complicated grief, a process that eventually, while never gone, becomes bearable. Although the sharp pain of grief subsides, one cannot deny the numb reminders of loss. One cannot deny this. Even after a decade, would one not weep at the tombstone of a loved one? Yet the pain felt is controlled, it is understood, and it is not pathological. There may even be a moment of happiness and realization that the loved one is in a better place. The third step proposed by Worden is adjustment. Adjustment is the temporary period of transition where the person re-writes their life story and readjusts the future chapters of their life. These new chapters do not dismiss the past chapters of loss, but encompass them and interweave them into their present and future. Adjustment is a difficult period where sad reminders of loss may appear from time to time, but life is adjustment. If something fails to adjust, it becomes extinct. Hence adjustment is an important phase in re-writing one’s life and creating a new future. Worden’s final phase included relocation of the person lost. This is simply emotional acceptance that the person is physically gone but their memory never leaves. They are forever in the heart of the lover and forever cherished and placed in a different mode of existence. From a theistic tradition, the person is never gone, but still present but in a different way. This ideal completely divorces itself from the Freudian view of complete separation. The loss is always part of you, it is not a pathology, but is a critical part of who one is. True one does move on, but in a healthy fashion with a new life story with new chapters that are contingent upon the past chapters.
Grief Counseling and Bowly’s Process
Other grief guides encompass the same idea. Bowlby’s process of mourning includes preoccupation, disorganization and reorganization. Lindermann’s involves acceptance, adjustment and forming new relationships. Finally Rando’s six “R”s captures the same ideal with the following words of “Recognize, React, Recollect, Relinquish, Readjust, and Reinvest”. In all of these one can see the same general theme that grief is a reaction to loss and that the human heart goes through a general phase of mourning, acceptance, adjustment, and reorganization.
In conclusion, grief counselors should become aware of these phases. They can combine or utilize whatever system they feel is best for their patient. These systems are very good guides on general human behavior but are not concrete infallible guides for every individual. With that in mind, grief counselors should realize that these systems are merely guides and that each human being is unique and deserves unique care.
If you want a certification in grief counseling, then please review the program. Those who want a certification in grief counseling can enhance an already flourishing professional career.
By Mark Moran, MA