Counseling People Dealing with Bereavement

Throughout history, numerous writers and researchers have articulated their views of what constitutes the bereaved state and its associated actions, particularly since 1970. The earliest conceptualizations were done by Freud (1957), where he related it to loss situation-specific depressive syndromes, and he spoke of restitution of cathected or invested energies, particularly those of id origin. Later formulations bore the hallmark of attachment theory grounding, wherein the broken bond with the lost object/person is the subject and object of a universal psychosocial process leading to the eventual reconciliation of painful feelings and reattachment to life, living and, for some, even new relationships. Colin Murray Parkes (1972) also cited stigma and deprivation as key features of the bereavement experience. These authors based their findings largely on studies of widows in Britain, Australia, and North America.
Many of these seminal works on bereavement brought about a linear stage model of progression to some better state post-loss. Examples include the popularized views of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross (1969), who wrote of movement from denial, through anger, to bargaining, then to depression, and finally to acceptance. This often misrepresented and misused description none the less has lingered to the present day as the best-known Western layperson’s view of what happens to the psyche anticipating imminent mortality. John Bowlby (1982) also wrote of four phases as characteristic of the bereaved person’s experience: numbing. yearning and searching. disorganization and despair. and eventual reorganization. Most of this work was conducted in clinical settings or via self-report from survivors who presented for help, thus limiting the generalizability of findings to a minority of bereaved people. Erich Lindemann’s (1944) classic study of fiery, poisonous smoke-caused death loss in Boston yielded a profile of characteristics that still appears to be valid, if incomplete picture. He found five major symptom sets to be problematic – somatic distress. preoccupation with the dead person’s image. guilt feelings. angry and hostile reactions. and atypical daily conduct – all in reaction to the sudden death loss of a significant other. More comprehensive renderings offer expanded views of bereavement that still include the phasic, the biological or somatic, the clinical, and diverse variant patterns, but represent a wider swathe of coverage and, in some cases, a shift to a postmodern view that argues for validation of continuity mindsets rather than solely replacement thoughts as legitimate alternative explanations of adult reactions to death loss.

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