Grief Models and Approaches

Bereavement Models and Approaches

Academic research has produced a multitude of models and approaches through which to view and study bereavement. Aspects of many of these models often apply to each grieving person. It is important to keep in mind that we all grieve differently. Furthermore, our age, personality, how the person died, our relationship to the departed person and other factors affect our grieving process. For some bereaved persons, reading more about academic studies and models of grief helps them to understand the grieving process and to feel less alone and more “normal” in the process. For others, these models may not resonate strongly with their personal experience.

Below are summaries of several of the commonly used bereavement models.


-Meaning Reconstruction- Neimeyer, R. And Gillies, J. (2006) discuss the relationship between the distress of a loss and the search for meaning. They define “meaning reconstruction” as consisting of 1. Sense-making 2. Benefit-finding and 3. Identity change.  They found that if the meaning structures that are formed by the bereaved after the loss are helpful, than the bereaved will have less distress.  Some bereaved persons have belief and meaning structures that accommodate the practical and existential challenges of the loss. For example, if Juan’s father died at the age of 92 from a sudden heart attack, and Juan felt he and his father had a good relationship before his death, Juan may be able to easily integrate the experience of his father’s death into his existing meaning structure. However, if Helene’s friend, Suzie, who was a very gentle and kind person was murdered by her husband, Helene’s search for new meaning structures in spirituality may be precipitated. In grief therapy, sometimes the clinician is assisting the bereaved person in their journey to find new meaning in areas of their life such as in their values, spirituality, a continued relationship with the departed, and personal growth after the death. (Source: Gillies, J. & Neimeyer, R.A. (2006). Loss, grief, and the search for significance:Toward a model of meaning reconstruction in bereavement. Journal of Constructivist Psychology, 19, 31-65.)


-Dual Process Model of Bereavement- Stroebe, M. & Schut, H. (1999) acknowledge that the bereaved are often in a process of oscillation between “Loss-Oriented” experiences and “Restoration-Oriented” experiences and as time passes generally spend more and more time in restoration-oriented behaviors. They identify Loss-oriented behaviors and thoughts to include grief work, breaking bonds with the departed, and denial of changes while restoration-oriented thoughts and behaviors to include doing new things, avoidance of grief, and forming new relationships. In grief therapy, sometimes the clinician works with the bereaved person to identify and form a plan that facilitates developing restoration-oriented skills. For example, if Judy’s spouse of 40 years passed away, one restoration-orientation skill she may want to acquire would be confidence in making life and budgeting decisions on her own. Source: Stroebe, M. & Schut, H. (1999). The Dual Process model of coping and bereavement: Rationale and description. Death Studies, 23, 197-224.


-Tasks, Needs, and Stages Models of Bereavement-For some bereaved persons, having defined tasks and stages to complete (not necessarily in a linear fashion) help them to feel empowered in understanding their grieving process, “normal,” and ways to actively facilitate their healing. Although there certainly is no one way or process by which to grieve, there are some similarities in the grieving process that many people go through. Wolfelt’s Six Needs of Mourning, for example, includes the steps of 1. Acknowledging the reality of the loss 2. Embracing the pain of the loss 3. Remembering the person who is gone. 4.Developing a new self-identity 5. Searching for meaning 6. Receiving ongoing support from others. Discussing some or all of these needs with a therapist or support group may be helpful for some bereaved persons. Source: Lewis, R. (2016). Understanding the Six Needs of Mourning from “Healing Your Grieving Heart” by Alan Wolfelt. Retrieved from http:///


 -Sorrow, Consolation, and Solace in Bereavement-Klass, D. (2013) discusses the importance of sorrow and solace in bereavement research.  “The positive resolutions of grief toward which our research is pointed are good goals. But sorrow remains and into that sorrow comes solace. Our research would be more complete were we to take sorrow seriously and include solace as one of the outcomes we [therapists, friends, families, academics, society] can help foster” (p. 614). Klass proposes that consolation which involves human relationships and inner resources like spirituality, tribe identity, and being part of something bigger all help to transform sorrow into solace. He defines solace as an “alleviation of pain and an augmentation of the ability to bear the pain.” Certainly, many therapists are aware that we cannot cure the pain of grief, and it is likely more practical and helpful not to set the expectation that a cure for grief will happen. Instead, the hope and expectation of the grieving process may be more suited to be healing, wisdom, and an alleviation of the pain. This acknowledgement can also help many bereaved persons as they are less likely to feel as if they are “failing” or “not doing something right” if they continue to have some level of sorrow even years after the death. Source: Klass, D. (2013). Sorrow and solace: Neglected areas in bereavement research. Death Studies, 37, 597-616.