Good News About Grief -- Maybe what we've learned is wrong!
As a pastor I'm regularly called upon to walk with those who are grieving. I'm not a trained counselor so I'm not equipped to do long term counseling and grief support, but I've learned the basics. But, it's possible that much of what I've learned -- much of what you've been told might not be correct.
In this week's Time Magazine there is an excerpt from Ruth Davis Konigsberg's new book The Truth About Grief. In this excerpt we learn about five myths that have been propagated over the years, often based on little research. You will be surprised to learn, for instance, that there really isn't much basis to the Kubler-Ross teaching concerning the 5-Stages of Grief. The most recent research shows that grief isn't a series of steps we all go through, but instead "a grab bag of symptoms that come and go and, eventually, simply lift."
Another myth is that we should "express it; don't repress it." You know how we're always pushing people to get it out, you'll be healthier if you don't keep it in! Well there doesn't seem to be much basis for this need.
I'm not at all surprised about the third myth -- that women have a harder time with grief than men. My experience has been that many men, especially older men, find it more difficult to cope with the loss of a spouse than the other way around. The fourth myth suggests that grief never ends. There are those who have what is called "Prolonged Grief Disorder," but most people get back to life. They don't forget the person, but they don't spend all their time dwelling on this as well. So, resilience isn't a disorder to be cured!
Finally, and this really may surprise you -- there's no evidence that Grief Counseling helps. Even though grief counseling is a major industry, with grief professionals and grief groups proliferating -- likely using as their guide the Kubler-Ross book -- Konigsburg writes that "for a practice that has become so ubiquitous, it has been awfully hard to verify its effectiveness, no matter how well intentioned its advocates may be.
Now, it could be that these myths are harmless and we shouldn't worry about this issue. But, it is also possible that all our efforts to help people grieve can prolong the process and force people into rigid steps.
So, she writes, and I'd like us to ponder this word of advice, if it is true:
Instead of rushing to prescribe ways to grief, it would be more helpful to spread a different, more liberating message based on what the science is beginning to tell us: that most people are resilient enough to get through loss on their own without stages or phases or tasks. A small minority will have a much harder time of it, and clinicians should focus their efforts on tailoring interventions for this group that are based on evidence, not assumptions. As with all social science, these new findings are not the last word, but they do give us a better sense of the different responses to bereavement and their prevalence.
I'm not sure what to make of this, but just based on my own observations over the years, I think there's a lot of truth to these new findings. I think it's incumbent upon the church especially to be aware of this and make sure we're not making things worse for our people. So, what say you?