Grief is one of the strongest emotions a human being may face. Hence, its nature has been extensively studied by scholars. Nowadays, Stage Theory is one of the most practical and widely applied models. Despite the theoretical base of the Stage Theory has been disputed in recent years, it still holds a strong position in medical practice due to its simplicity and usability.
The Stage Theory, Its Advantages, and Limitations
The Stage Theory is a psychological model based on a set of successive emotional states undergone by terminally ill patients who have to face their diagnosis as well as by those people who have experienced a loss of relatives or friends. One of the first scholars who contributed to the theory was Elisabeth Kübler-Ross from the medical school of the University of Chicago. Her approach was based on the profound knowledge of the psychological problems of her terminally ill patients (Kübler-Ross & Kessler, 2014). According to this theory, people in grief undergo several successive emotional states, from denial to acceptance. Based on these stages, clear guidelines were developed to make suffering people understand their feelings and get along with their grief.
Stage Theory has become very popular because it is well-composed and easy to use in practice (Allred, 2015). However, the disadvantages of the theory include a lack of empirical support. According to Stroebe, Schut, and Boerner (2017), no substantial evidence has been demonstrated so far that all people in grief go through certain stages in a particular order. Besides, the applicability of the theory has not been extensively tested on people belonging to other cultures and religions. Nonetheless, the Stage Theory is still widely used by practitioners who believe its benefits to outweigh all possible drawbacks.
The Stages of Grief as per the Stage Theory
Shock and denial form the first stage of the grieving process, which is a protective reaction against something too painful to accept. When a person faces a significant loss or a medical death-warrant, the first response is, “No, it can’t be true!” (Leming & Dickinson, 2015, p. 497). This stage is not only a pure escape from reality but also an essential mechanism of adaptation to it.
Disorganization is the second phase of grief, when the affected ones may feel completely out of place since their life turned upside down. This confusion may often lead to volatile reactions, which are considered a separate stage of the grieving process (Leming & Dickinson, 2015, p. 498). Such reactions often include anger, frustration, helplessness, resentment, and jealousy, which are often hard to control (Leming & Dickinson, 2015). People become sensitive and easy to hurt.
Guilt is the fourth stage of grieving when the suffering person feels responsible for their major loss and directs all the anger and frustration to themselves (Leming & Dickinson, 2015). The victim of bereavement may also regret something that was done or was not done in the past. The next stage is loss and loneliness. As time passes, the grieving individual starts to realize how much the deceased one is missed (Leming & Dickinson, 2015). In an attempt to fulfill the vacant place in their hearts, the bereaved may try to increase their social activity by making new friends, adopting a pet, and so on.
The last two stages of the grieving process are relief and reestablishment. The grieving individual may find comfort in the thought that the deceased person is no longer suffering (Leming & Dickinson, 2015). Finally, reestablishment comes. Although the feelings of guilt, anger, and loneliness may still reappear, they are not as overwhelming and tend to fade as time passes. Such feelings are not to be denied but accepted as a regular part of emotional life.
Despite the weak empirical basis, the Stage Theory still holds its position among the specialists who help people to manage their grief and to cope with their losses. Possible limitations of the theory do not crucially affect its practical usage, and to date, there is no competitive alternative to the guidelines provided by Kübler-Ross and her followers.
Allred, K. W. (2015). Engaging parents of students with disabilities: Moving beyond the grief model. Improving Schools, 18(1), 46–55.
Kübler-Ross, E., & Kessler, D. (2014). On grief and grieving: Finding the meaning of grief through the five stages of loss. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster.
Leming, M., & Dickinson, G. (2015). Understanding dying, death, and bereavement (8th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.
Stroebe, M., Schut, H., & Boerner, K. (2017). Cautioning health-care professionals: Bereaved persons are misguided through the stages of grief. OMEGA – Journal of Death and Dying, 74(4), 455–473.