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Models of Grief

Updated: Sep 7, 2021

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, who created the Five Stages of Grief, was a groundbreaker. She didn’t assume that dying people only felt one emotion, despair, as was usual at the time. She talked to dying people and discovered that they had many different emotions and that their emotions changed over time. She then created the Five Stages of Grief and applied it to grieving people as well. Although she added to our knowledge, later research discovered there is much more depth, and much less simplicity, than the Five Stages of Grief led us to believe. In her later years, Kubler-Ross also believed that there were many more emotions in grief than the five she named and that there was no linear path to these feelings.

It has been thoroughly debunked by research that there are set stages of grief. Everyone grieves in their own way and there aren’t certain emotions that must be felt. There also aren’t a limited number of emotions or an order to them. The Five Stages of Grief have a big hold on our imaginations in this country, possibly due to their simplicity. It can be comforting to think there are steps to take in grief, although this is balanced out by the self-blame people can feel when they think they are doing it wrong. Fortunately, there are newer models that are based on how healthy people actually grieve.

One model is called the Dual Process Model (Stroebe and Schut). This model describes how grievers bounce back and forth between looking backward at their losses and looking forward at their new lives. At first, much more time is spent looking backward, which is called Loss Orientation. Later, more time is spent in what is called Restoration Orientation. Some of the tasks of Loss Orientation include denial, avoidance, sadness, pain, and breaking past bonds. Some of the tasks of Restoration Orientation include distraction, taking on new roles and identities, new relationships, life changes, and doing new things. In successful grief, the mourner moves from spending most of their time adjusting to what was lost to spending most of their time living their new life.

Another model that was developed by studying healthy grievers is called The Four Tasks of Grief (Worden). This model lists four tasks that people who successfully integrate a loss complete. They are generally in order, but grievers move around between them and work on multiple tasks at once. The first task is to accept the reality of the loss. The second task is to work through the pain of the grief. This task involves feeling the emotions of mourning. The third task is to adjust to an environment in which the deceased is missing. The final task is to find an enduring connection to the deceased while imagining a new life. These are not tasks that have to be actively worked at so much as they should be allowed. If they are allowed and supported, grievers will tend to naturally work through them. It can be reassuring for grievers to see where they are in working on these tasks and to look back and notice their progress on these tasks over time.


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