The Experience of Grief after Bereavement: A Phenomenological Study with Implications for Mental Health Counseling. (Research)

Article excerpt

Phenomenological methods were used to explore the experience of grief after bereavement. Nine bereaved adults volunteered to participate in open-ended interviews in which they were asked to discuss their experience of grief after the death of a loved one. An analysis of the interviews revealed the following themes in the experience of grief after bereavement: Coping, Affect, Change, Relationship, and Details. Implications for the practice of mental health counseling are discussed.

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Grief over the death of a loved one presents one of the most frequent and challenging problems mental health counselors face with their clients. Death of loved ones is possibly the most penetrating loss individuals experience: it is a physical, emotional, and spiritual loss (James & Friedman, 1998). Grief, our emotional response to loss, is the entire range of naturally occurring human emotions that accompany loss. The authors' position is that mental health counselors could improve their grief counseling skills from reading first person accounts of the experience of grief.

Few would disagree with Parkes' (1996) contention that bereavement results in emotional, cognitive, physical, and behavioral responses. The impact of loss through death is noted on the Social Readjustment Rating Scale (Holmes & Holmes, 1970), which was designed to measure cumulative stress over a given period of time. The norm group which was used in developing the scale, although almost exclusively composed of men, contained all major cultural groups in the United States. On the scale, the death of a spouse ranks first out of 43 stressful events followed by the death of a family member which ranks 5th and the death of a close friend ranking 17th. Clearly, mental health counselors need to be prepared to work with clients on their adjustment to the loss of their loved ones through death.

FACTORS INFLUENCING THE GRIEVING PROCESS

A variety of factors affect the bereavement experience, including how one is related to the deceased (e.g., parent, child, partner, or friend; Bonanno, 1999; Leahy, 1993; Meshot & Leitner, 1993), the type of death (Drenovsky, 1994; Ginzburg, Geron, & Solomon, 2002; Levy, Martinkowski, & Derby, 1994; Stamm, 1999), historical approaches to bereavement (Leming & Dickinson, 1994; Smart, 1993), societal influences (Leming & Dickinson), cultural norms (Klapper, Moss, Moss, & Rubinstein, 1994; Stroebe, 1992), the quality of relationship with the deceased (Meshot & Leitner; Rubin, 1992), and the age of the deceased (Klapper et al.; Moss, Moss, Rubinstein, & Resch, 1993). In addition, various aspects of bereaved individuals influence their reaction to loss such as personal vulnerability (Bonanno, 1999; Van Baarsen, Van Duijn, Smit, Snijders, & Knipscheer, 2002), personality traits (Goodman, Black, & Rubinstein, 1996), their age (Gilbar & Dagan, 1995; Levy et al.; Meshot & Leitner), social behavior (Van Baarsen et al.) and familial patterns in dealing with grief (Book, 1996; McGoldrick, 1995). Some have suggested that certain variables have differential effects depending on the stage of bereavement (Richardson & Balaswamy, 2001). For example, loss-oriented variables such as circumstances of death (e.g., type of death) have been found to be more crucial in the early stages of loss whereas restoration variables such as investing in social activities are more relevant in later stages.

When considering the variables which impact the experience of bereavement, it is no surprise that one's relationship with the deceased greatly influences an individual's emotional response to the loss (Meshot & Leitner, 1993; Rubin, 1992). For instance, one's association (i.e., kinship tie) to the deceased has a notable effect on one's reaction to a loss. Reactions vary depending on whether one has lost a parent, sibling, child, partner, co-worker, or friend; different relationships evoke different responses. …