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Think Grief Episodes NOT Stages


There is controversy within the Grief Services Community. Views on Stages of Grief appear to be giving way to Waves of Grief. However, both approaches are only descriptive of the process.

“By emphasizing process, both risk missing the critical point: Grief is the most severe stress response that we as humans can experience. Resolving grief is more a function of stress management than labeling the events,” says Timothy J. O’Brien, director of the Institute for Stress Management & Performance Improvement.

Kubler-Ross described the “5 stages of grief” when writing about the experiences of terminally ill patients. Recent research, unable to find evidence of set “stages of grief,” have offered the explanation that grief is more like waves, it ebbs and flows.

“Regardless of whether or not there are ‘stages of grief,’ or ‘waves of grief,’ that is secondary to the stress response of grief,” according to O’Brien and, “the depth of the grief response by an individual depends on the frequency, intensity and duration of the grief episodes a person has. And, the frequency, intensity and duration are a result of the griever’s personality, the nature of the event and their relationship to the person who has died.”

O’Brien emphasizes that nearly any situation or event can trigger a grief episode. Pictures of the lost loved one, anniversaries, favorite songs or places can all trigger a grief response.

How long the entire bereavement process lasts is highly individualistic. “Some people with hardy personalities will recover in a matter of weeks or months. For others, it can take years and involve either a grief group or extensive private therapy.” says O’Brien.

Timothy J. O’Brien M.S. author of the “A Season for Healing - A Reason for Hope” Grief Support Program has been involved with Grief and Mourning issues since 1991.


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