The Dual Process Model of Grief and Coping with Bereavement

What is the Dual Process Model of Grief and how can it help you? 

Let’s take a closer look.

Models of grief can provide comfort and normalise your feelings

In some of our recent pet loss articles, we’ve been talking about models of grief such as the four tasks of grief.

We think it’s important to explain some of the most well-known models of grief, simply because you might be someone who finds it helpful to understand a bit more about what you’re going through.

Grief can feel isolating and unexpected, like the most terrifying of rollercoasters. Models of grief can give a sense of normality and ground you through the ups and downs.

The Dual Process Model of Grief

In the mid-90s, clinical psychology professors Margaret Stroebe and Henk Schut developed the Dual Process Model of Coping with Bereavement.

Up until then, experts had believed that grief was a linear process where you worked through various tasks and stages and eventually arrived at closure. People would talk about needing to do “grief work”, suggesting that you could only heal your grief if you faced your loss head on and completed certain tasks.

The Dual Process Model of Coping with Bereavement suggests that grief is far more complicated.

In the Dual Process Model, Stroebe and Schut stated that there are two different types of stressors associated with grieving, which reflect different ways of behaving. 

These stressors are loss orientated and restoration orientated.

Stroebe and Schut explain that when you’re grieving, you will switch – or “oscillate” – between two different modes of being. 

This is why they called the model a Dual Process, i.e. “consisting of two part or elements”.

But what does this really mean?

Loss-orientated stressors

As the name would suggest, loss-orientated stressors are anything that make you focus on your loss. 

With a beloved pet, this might be seeing old photos of them, deciding what to do with their belongings, reminders of them in your daily routine or simply remembering something you loved doing together.

Loss-orientated stressors can make you feel sad, guilty, angry, anxious, depressed and many of the other powerful emotions associated with grief.

When you’re experiencing this process, you may find yourself thinking back a lot, yearning to be with your pet again, crying, reminiscing or simply wanting to curl up in bed to sleep the day away.

Restoration-orientated stressors

Stroebe and Schut believed that no-one can realistically face grief head-on 24 hours a day until they somehow feel better.

It’s too demanding, exhausting and, ultimately, unhealthy to live entirely within the loss-orientated process.

The Dual Process Model explains that restoration-orientated stressors are necessary; they enable you to get on with daily life and distract yourself from your grief sometimes. It’s so important to be able to take a small break from focusing on your pain, even if it’s just for a few minutes.

The restoration-orientated process is about rebuilding your life without your loved one, finding distractions, changing your routines, doing new things or even just completing mundane tasks like cooking a meal, going for a walk or doing some cleaning.

If you find yourself wanting to binge-watch your favourite programme on Netflix and just ignore all of your feelings for a while, the Dual Process Model says that’s natural and completely healthy.

Oscillation between the two processes

According to Stroebe and Schut, you will find yourself oscillating or bouncing between both processes. This will help you to make sense of your grief and your new reality bit by bit.

You’ve probably been doing this naturally.

For example, perhaps you got up this morning, made a cup of tea, laughed at something your partner said and then sat down to do some work. Then, suddenly, you spotted your pet’s food bowl on the kitchen side and burst into tears.

This was you moving from a restoration-orientated process to a loss-orientated process. You may swing between the two multiple times during any given day – or hour!

The Dual Process Model explains that this oscillation is vital for healthy grieving, moving you between coping with your grief and seeking respite from it. 

Of course, you will sometimes experience one process more than another. When a loss is very fresh, we can feel like we’re drowning in loss-orientated stressors.

However, by necessity, the restoration-orientated process will eventually kick in. 

You mustn’t feel guilty when it does. It’s a survival mechanism and a completely healthy, natural part of grief. 

The Dual Process Model also recognises that grief doesn’t have a definitive end point and that it’s an ever-changing state. It’s natural to eventually spend larger chunks of time on restoration-orientated activities, only to bounce back into a loss-orientated state on an anniversary or after experiencing something that triggers a memory.

The important thing to remember is that you won’t stay stuck in that process forever.

And, as always, know that you are not alone.

Shailen and The Ralph Site team
The Ralph Site, non-profit pet loss support

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