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Please Stop Talking about the Five Stages of Grief

I wish the world would stop talking about the stages of grief. It drives me crazy. Child loss simply does not work this way. Ask any grieving mother.

Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross established the five stages of grief in 1969 in her book On Death and Dying. The five stages including denial, anger, depression, bargaining, and acceptance and were believed to be the five phases that patients go through after receiving a terminal diagnosis. In time, it was applied to everyone experiencing grief and became the accepted model.

Kubler-Ross began studying grief because there were so few resources available to medical students about death and dying.

As a health care professional, this is what I studied in school. This is what I believed to be true, until I was faced with my own grief and loss. That's when I realized this theory was flawed.

After my daughter Katie died, we sought out family counselling. I thought we would get guidance and helpful information. We did not. It was awful to say the least.

When the young therapist pulled out a laminated diagram of the Kulber-Ross model, I nearly lost my mind.

In fact, I was very angry. I said "Please do not show me that. Our situation does not fit into that model at all." However, she insisted my then 15 year old son needed to hear about it. Insert eye roll here.

Even Wikipedia states 'Although commonly referenced in popular media, the existence of these stages has not been empirically demonstrated and the model is not considered helpful in explaining the grieving process. It is considered to be of historical value but outdated in scientific terms and in a clinical practice.'

Anyone reading this right now knows that grief lasts a lifetime; that it's a constant up and down, loop-de-loop roller coaster ride. Grief never ends; it's not neat and tidy and we don't complete or progress from one phase to the other.

Yes, there are emotions with grief and they include denial, anger, depression, bargaining, and acceptance, but there are many other emotions and feelings like guilt, fear, blame, loneliness, jealousy, bitterness, and so many more.

You may not experience all of the emotions laid out in Kubler-Ross's model. And you will never reach acceptance and be 'done' with grief.

Kubler-Ross's theory puts unnecessary pressure on those who are grieving and sends the wrong messages to their family and friends.

This misleading theory leads people to think that at some point we should be over it. If anyone applies the model to us, it looks like we are doing grief all wrong because REAL grief does not fit into five neat stages.

So, please, if you are a therapist, counsellor, or professional who deals with grief in any way stop using this theory. Instead, talk about the emotions that can accompany grief. Talk about the complicated and confusing way that people often feel and tell them that feeling this wayis normal.

Talk about the fact that each person who experiences grief and loss is unique and will experience things differently than the next person. Talk about the fact that grief is messy and nearly everyone thinks they are doing it wrong. These are helpful things to know.

Later in life Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross stated that she believed grief to be different than she initially thought. She came to realize that grief is not linear, nor is it predictable, and she regretted that her theory misconstrued these realities.

I look forward to a day when there will be more understanding around grief and Dr. Kubler-Ross's theory will become a stepping stone that leads to more compassionate, accurate, and up-to-date theories.

I truly believe in my heart that no ones knows grief like a bereaved mother.

Be easy on yourself and know that no one can tell you how to do your grief.

If you liked this blog, you might want to check out: 7 Confessions of a Grieving Mother.

XO Lisa,

Mom of Katie (forever 17)

PS: I have created a free 5-part video series that addresses some of the most common questions and concerns that grieving moms have. You can learn more about it HERE.

grief support for bereaved mothers

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1 Comment

Sarah Chandra
Jan 11, 2022

I'm an LPC (licensed professional counselor) who lost my son to suicide last year. The only crap I learned about grief in school was that useless theory that never helped anyone, which is why I didn't profess to be a therapist who knew anything about grief. When I went to my first counselor to get help coping with the grief (only a month after he died), she started asking what I knew about the stages of grief. I was so angry, but I shut down. I never went back to her. I knew then that if I was to truly find help, I would have to go to a specialist. A specialist is someone who has devoted a lot of…

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