Charles Cowling

There’s a nicely written piece over at Obit magazine, a review of a new book, The Truth About Grief: The Myth of Its Five Stages and the New Science of Loss (Simon & Schuster), by Ruth Davis Konigsberg. It’s probably worth reading.

It’s a demolition job on certain schools of bereavement counselling — those informed by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s On Death and Dying. I don’t know how prevalent it is in the UK now, the orthodoxy that bereaved people must, under the supervision of a well-meaning person who’s been on a course, be taken on a journey through the Famous Five Stages — possibly stage by stage to a strict timetable. Denial. Anger. Depression. Bargaining. Acceptance.

With acceptance, of course, comes closure, as the bereaved person finally ejects the dead person, wiggles her tail and swims happily away to join all the other carefree fishes. Something like that. (How I wish we could put WTF in tiny caps after a word, as we put TM after a brand name. Closure WTF)

If it misses the point bigtime, why should we be surprised? Kubler Ross was writing about the emotions a dying person might go through, not a bereaved one. And I don’t remember her prescribing the full five in the right order.

“When 233 people were interviewed [by Yale University researchers] between one to 24 months after the death of a spouse, most respondents accepted the death of a loved one from the very beginning.” I seem to recall that studies of those bereaved by the 911 attacks revealed that counselling had prolonged the grief of many of those unlucky enough to receive it; those who had none did best.

While I was researching my book I spoke to someone at Cruse who fielded this question: Have you done any research to discover whether a good funeral can be transformative of grief? (Ans: We’ve never thought of that.)

I am sure there are good things going on in the bereavement sector and I hope someone will tell us what they are. Counsellors take a bit of a bashing from sceptics (until they themselves need counselling).

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Joanne Cacciatore, PhDJonathanComfort Blanketcharlesgloria mundi Recent comment authors

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Joanne Cacciatore, PhD
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I have written a response to the book and ensuing public commentary here:

http://drjoanne.blogspot.com/

Thank you so much for this discussion!

Jonathan
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Jonathan

“When 233 people were interviewed…most respondents accepted the death of a loved one from the very beginning.” Firstly let me explain that, like Comfort Blanket, I’m a celebrant and Cruse bereavement support worker (we’re not supposed to call it ‘counselling’ because we don’t have to have a counselling qualification). Kubler-Ross doesn’t get that much of a look-in in the training; it’s Worden with his ‘four TASKS’, not stages, ‘of grieving’, not dying (I only even remember them by an acronym – AWARe: Accept reality of loss, Work through to the pain, Adjust to new circumstances without deceased, and Re-locate deceased… Read more »

Comfort Blanket
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Comfort Blanket

I will indeed Charles. We’re a small branch in a little market town but we’re a plucky bunch and we’ll do our best. As activist and campaigner Anita Roddick said: If you think you’re too small to make a difference, you’ve obviously never been in bed with a mosquito…

gloria mundi
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Much as I admire many of the FDs I work with round here, I wonder if it would be possible for Rupert to nip up to these parts and bite them – maybe they would be infected with his enquiring mind, depth of thought and range of interest and knowledge.(That’s OK Rupert, a G&T will cover it…)
And CB’s response too is informative and reassuring. Hope the talk goes well – I’m sure it will.

Comfort Blanket
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Comfort Blanket

I’m a Cruse counsellor and I conduct funerals. I’m relatively new to both (about a year) but my experience so far has been this… We learn about Kubler Ross’s five stages during our Cruse training, but the most important lesson we learnt about stages of grief was that no two people experience grief in the same way, and you see ‘clients’ with very much an open mind. At its most simplistic level you represent a safe environment where they can just say what they really feel to someone who will listen without judging them in any way. Of course, they… Read more »

Rupert Callender
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This misunderstanding about Kubler Ross’s five stages is extraordinary, as is pointed out they are for the dying, not the bereaved. I’m sure I have mentioned this before, but the episode of The Simpsons when Homer thinks he has twenty four hours to live after ingesting poorly prepared ‘fugu’ fish in a Japanese restaurant and passes through the five stages in under five seconds is a classic. GM, battle traumatised soldiers from Afghanistan and Iraq have just begun to be treated with MDMA, also known as Ecstasy for their symptoms with incredibly promising results. Therapists have been battling for years… Read more »

gloria mundi
Guest

Similarly, a group of battle-traumatised soldiers were quite recently studied (sorry Charles can’t remember the reference)and it was found that those who hadn’t had anti-PTSD counselling did rather better than those who had. Which doesn’t negate counselling, but makes me think how well it is or can be suited to each individual, ranging from “full job on this one” to “leave this one alone.” How could one know? Some people clearly benefit from it. What would be the diagnostic tools, as it were? Someone from Cruse recently told me that the K-R stages were pretty generally replaced by a different… Read more »