Many grief theories have evolved over the past century that attempt to help individuals understand and deal with the grief process. Freud’s mourning theory attempted to psychoanalyze loss, and many more modern theories have evolved to better explore how to help a bereaved individual. In the past several decades, three diverging grief theories have offered alternate explanations for how a bereaved individual processes and deals with grief. While no single grief model applies to all grievers, practical application of these theories can help a bereaved individual explore the grief process. Understanding these models also helps family and friends provide the appropriate support during and after a loss.

The Kubler-Ross Model of Grief

The Kubler-Ross model of grief comes from a 1969 book On Death and Dying, and is characterized by five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Under this model, a bereaved individual experiences and expresses grief in different ways during these stages. Understanding each stage can help a bereaved individual better interpret his thoughts and behaviors, and can help family and friends provide the appropriate support.

The Continuing Bonds Theory of Grief

A more modern interpretation of grief theory, the continuing bonds theory proposes that a person who has experienced loss continues to carry on a relationship with the deceased. The relationship changes, by necessity, with the loss of a loved one; but the relationship itself doesn’t end, nor does the grieving process. This model explores the idea that the grief process never really ends, nor is there a moment of finite closure. Instead, it explores how an individual can live with loss, and honor the deceased, on a continuing basis.

The Dual Process Model of Grief

The Dual Process Model of Grief hypothesizes that a bereaved individual can oscillate between periods of alternately accepting and experiencing a loss, and avoiding the suffering that loss entails. This theory posits that these alternate ways of approaching the grieving process are a perfectly acceptable coping mechanism, whose goal is to moderate the amount of suffering that a person can withstand. Understanding the Dual Process Model can give the bereaved license to take breaks from periods of intense grieving, and can help family and friends understand these seemingly-random swings in behavior.

Practical Application to Help the Bereaved

It’s important to keep in mind that no single grief model fits every bereaved individual. Each person is different, and grief is highly individualized, so a bereaved individual or his family and friends should not try to force a grief pattern to fit into one of these models. However, in many cases, understanding and practical application of these grief theories can help the bereaved.

A bereaved individual often finds it difficult to understand or process his or her own behavior and emotions during the grieving process. These models give one a framework for identifying and understanding the grief process. However, none of these processes should be used to put a timeline on the grief process, as it is deeply personal for every individual.