Wednesday 28 November 2012

Good Grief!

As part of the human condition and as I think that this blog relates to that through my occupation as a physiotherapist, the article on grieving, written by Vaughan Bell in the Observer related to the psychology of grief,  was worthy of discussion

Mourning can take many different forms across different cultures, based on many different understandings of death. Claims that there is a universal psychology of grief  fails when viewing the diversity of humankind. Aboriginal Australians have a taboo about naming or encountering representations of the dead. On the Pacific coast of Colombia there is a belief that the death of a young child is marked by celebrations as it is believed that dead becomes an angel and goes directly to heaven. The Ganda people in Uganda  have a strict prohibition of sexual activity during mourning whilst the Cubeo tribe in Brazil have sex as part of the wake.

 I was led to believe that when we grieved we followed through  certain stages or phases and that this popular belief was normal and it was somehow abnormal if you did follow through these stages. It was the Swiss psychiatrist Elizabeth Kubler-Ross who first put forward the idea of DABDA; an acronym for denial, anger,bargaining,depression and acceptance and that somehow we moved through these stages of adjustment, and that sometimes you didn't and you got stuck in one or other stage and was then unable to move through the grieving process; or that you could go from denial to acceptance in one move and miss out all the other stages and so on. It turns out that she was talking about ones own acceptance of death and also  her ideas were wildly over-applied.

Elsewhere a psychologist George Bonanno followed individuals who were bereaved over years and found that there were no evidence of stages. Being plunged into despair and then slow recovery turns out to be exaggeration  It seems that sadness is a common response but deep debilitating anguish is an exception not a rule. Most people experience the heartache of losing someone but feel the  loss in different ways. There are no rules to dealing with loss; we all do it differently. No stages just personal journeys


  1. There was an article in the Sunday Times referencing the same topic. In it is discussed the Kubler-Ross theory or ‘experience’ that somehow after all the ‘stages’ you are considered to ‘have got over it’ and ‘moved on’. Quite what this actually means is the subject for debate. However, thinking of dealing with loss as a journey suggests that there is a beginning and an end. Quite clearly there is a beginning, although actually the grieving process can actually start before the death; which ironically can make the first ‘stage’ of the process seem illusionarily manageable. But is there actually an end? Doe one ever get to a point when the grief is over? Clearly there is a better way of publicly dealing with it which is of course all society really cares about. Visible grief is something that few can actually respond to easily. Once one gets to the stage when the tears stop and the bereaved are seen to be acting ‘normally’ then one is perceived to have dealt with the loss. But grief is not an emotion that ever really ends.

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