Q: I understand the theory of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s grief-stage model, which she made famous in On Death and Dying, but how can it be used to guide practical interventions in therapy?
A: People’s experience of grief is as unique as their lives and their losses. But although many people experience common responses to loss, as Elisabeth Kübler-Ross would always say, the stages—Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance—were never meant to tuck messy emotions into neat packages. Still, her model not only offers deep clinical insight, but can help therapists set reasonable treatment goals for clients dealing with grief, especially when they seem stuck in a certain stage of it. And rather than addressing grief as a problem to be fixed, the model can help clients embrace it as a natural part of life’s experience.
While Kübler-Ross’s stages are often conceived in a certain order, most clinicians know that they’re not stops on some linear timeline, and not everyone goes through all of them or in a prescribed order. What clinicians don’t often realize, however, is that the stages can provide a practical framework to help us identify what clients may need in their journey toward healing.
Denial: Increase Reality of the Loss
When we’re in the denial stage of grief, we may be paralyzed with shock or blanketed with numbness, but even though some people may say…