I recently finished a fascinating new book on the topic of grief, the focus of one of the main research programs at the Windbridge Institute.
The Truth About Grief: The Myth of its Five Stages and the New Science of Loss by Ruth Davis Konigsberg is a quick read that really opened my eyes to numerous aspects of this topic including: the bereavement and grief counseling "industries," grief memoirs, the grief culture, grief commercialism, how members of other cultures grieve, and grief related to the events of September 11th. The author states, "With this book I hope to offer you a means of escape from our habitual ways of thinking about grief" (p. 197).
Some interesting facts about grief covered in the book:
--Elisabeth Kübler-Ross' five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance) originated in 1969 with the publication of her book On Death and Dying and proposed that terminal patients facing their own deaths experience each stage in order.
--The stages were quickly adopted by the popular media, academia, and society in general and used to describe the experiences of people grieving the loss of a loved one (and later, the loss of just about anything). The pervasiveness of the five stages became readily apparent to me as I read this book when I independently ran across a 2D shooter video game called "Solace" that contains five levels of play, each based on one of the "Five Stages of Grief, as described by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross." The developers report that the theme arose "after one of our team members lost a brother during the game's development."
--Research has demonstrated that the stage model of grief does not reflect the reality of most people's experiences. Konigsberg states, "[I]t's more a grab bag of symptoms that come and go and, eventually, simply lift" (p.11).
--Most conventions regarding which types and manners of grieving are normal, healthy, or allowed are just social constructs and not based on research or even the majority of cases.
--A number of alternative stages (sometimes erroneously listed as Kübler-Ross') have been proposed by other authors and they, too, arose from anecdotes and personal experiences, not research.
--In reality, the grieving can go through many different emotions within any given day.
--The stage theories seem to have stuck around because: they attempt to make sense of something unthinkable, they "bring order to grief's contradictions" (p. 73), they provide reassurance that others have gotten through similar situations, and they allow "us to feel as if we are getting back some control" (p. 79).
--Extreme cases of grieving or those resulting from sudden, unexpected, or violent deaths are portrayed more often than milder, more common experiences in books, articles, movies, etc. As a result, many people mistakenly believe those experiences represent the norm.
--Acute grief requiring counseling (i.e., prolonged, complicated, or traumatic grief) only affects 10-15% of the bereaved population. Research demonstrates that "…most people are resilient enough to get through loss and reach an acceptable level of adjustment on their own" (p. 198).
--A recent paper titled "The Effectiveness of Psychotherapeutic Interventions for Bereaved Persons: A Comprehensive Quantitative Review" (Currier, Neimeyer, & Berman, 2008) describes a meta-analysis of 61 outcome studies which demonstrates that all grieving participants improved regardless of whether or not they received grief treatments or interventions. A similar review published in 2004 made comparable conclusions.
--There are too many variables involved to categorize any one type of loss (e.g., child) as more difficult than another (e.g., spouse).
--Medicare hospice legislation passed by Congress in 1982 mandates grief support for a minimum of one year after the death of a loved one.
--According to researcher George Bonanno, the phenomenon of resilience---reaching an acceptable adjustment to a death within a relatively short time period---"is not rare but relatively common, does not appear to indicate pathology but rather healthy adjustment, and does not lead to delayed grief reactions" (p. 156). Bonanno also determined that laughing, smiling, and repressing negative emotions are more helpful than anger and tears in adjusting to loss.
I highly recommend this book to those far and wide because even if it does not help you better understand your own grief experiences, it may at least help you in comforting the grieving people you may encounter in your life.
PS - Please join us at the upcoming Annual Meeting of the Society for Scientific Exploration (SSE), June 9 - 11, 2011, in Boulder, Colorado, USA. Windbridge Institute co-founder (and my husband) Mark Boccuzzi will be presenting: "Three methods for examining experimenter effects in investigations of psychokinesis" and I will be presenting "Anomalous information reception by research mediums under quintuple-blind conditions: Can the mind exist without the body?" It's a new meeting format this year with a fantastic line-up. The SSE meetings are really great (and really cheap considering all the experts that will be speaking).