The Research that explains GRIEF

How are the emotions Anger and Depression associated with grief? Why do so many people express anger or fall into a depression during or right after grief? It appears that anger, depression and three additional emotions are partners or “stages” of grief.

Elizabeth Kubler- Ross was a med student completing a residency in psychiatry when she took notice to the way the hospital and medicine in general treated the dying. She did not like the lack of emotional support or blatant disregard to the mental or emotional health of the terminally ill. Still a resident, Kubler-Ross began a series of interviews with terminally ill patients and encouraged her peers to interview their patients. This interchange between resident and patient created an intimacy during the resident’s interview and consultation time. It also put a face, a human-ness on the patient, promoted a sense of empathy for the doctor and encouraged the doctor to realize dying patients are human beings with feelings and emotions.

Dr. Kubler-Ross completed training in psychiatry in 1963 and moved to the University of Chicago’s Billings Hospital where she became assistant instructor of psychiatry.  There she focused on the psychological treatment of terminally ill patients suffering from anxiety. Medical schools at that time focused on the cure and recovery and ignored the emotional or psychological needs of the dying.  In essence, Dr. Kubler-Ross dedicated her psychiatry practice to the needs of the terminally ill; she provided psychological counseling to the dying. She continued her work with terminally ill patients and after study and extensive observation she completed “On Death and Dying” in 1969. The book gives us the five stages of grief that a terminally ill person will experience.  According to Dr. Kubler-Ross the stages are:

  1. Denial, (always the first stage),
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance

She shared her observations and interview processes with patients’ relatives, caregivers, doctors, nurses, additional hospital staff and clergy in formats called seminars.  Her seminars were widely attended by medical professionals and laymen.

Dr. Kubler-Ross is considered the mother of hospice; she did not support euthanasia but encouraged dying patients to go through the emotional turmoil that some interviews provoked. She called this process “working things out” and felt that every human being should be given the opportunity to air their emotional concerns. In the interviews, dying people describe their emotions and listeners observe that physical, social, spiritual and emotional aspects are all involved in grief.

Today “On Death and Dying” is the go to book for hospice personnel, ministers, chaplains, social workers and caregivers. Keep in mind that the contents and the 5 stages of grief are based on the experiences of dying people. For more information go to her foundation



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