Stages vs. Adaptation


We have a lot of common “knowledge” about grief in this culture and a lot of misinformation as well. One thing that people hang onto when they are faced with bereavement is the idea that they should progress linearly through discreet stages of grief, like the ones described by Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. She had the stages you often hear about, including denial, bargaining, anger, and acceptance. People wonder what’s wrong with them when they don’t march methodically through these stages or when it takes them longer to progress through loss than what our culture allows for. I want to propose a different way to view grief. William Worden suggests the idea of adaptation to loss rather than stages, and he proposes four tasks. These tasks are:
1) Accepting the reality of the loss
2) Processing the pain that accompanies grief
3) Adjusting to a world without your loved one, which includes internal considerations like who are you without that person around, and external considerations, such as how to live without them. Additionally, there may be a spiritual adjustments, like how to understand the spiritual meaning of what happened to their loved one
4) Forging a connection with the deceased that endures beyond their death, while starting a new life without the deceased.
These tasks are outlined in William Worden’s excellent book, Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy: A Handbook for the Mental Health Practitioner, 4th Edition, published in NY by Springer.

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