Theories of Grief

Important in the  developments of grief theory has been attachment theory with its focus on the responses made to separation from a significant other or its threat. Ainsworth and her colleagues (1978) established a schema of attachment styles. This has been the basis for understanding variability in loss response.

Contemporary work by Stroebe and Schut (1999) has proposed a dual process model of grief in which both the focus on restoration as well as on loss are seen as crucial grief responses and the two grief orientations are linked by a process of oscillation.

For practitioners working with grieving people the concept of tasks of mourning has been developed by Worden (1983/1991/2003) as a guide to the needful processes of movement through and beyond the immediate high distress of loss. 

Aspects of adjustment to loss are addressed by the theory of continuing bonds (Klass, Silverman and Nickman) in which new forms of relatedness to the deceased can be developed. Meaning reconstruction (Neimeyer) is a wider task of making sense of loss and its consequences.

Concerns about risk (Sanders 1993)  have been part of the traditional perspectives on loss shaped ideas about grief and the problems associated with its resolution. This has been countered by new attention to the human capacity for resilience (Seligman 1998).


  • Ainsworth, M.D.S., Blehar, M.C., Waters, E. and Wall, S. (1978) Patterns of Attachment: A Psychological Study of the Strange Situation. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
  • Klass, D., Silverman, P.R. and Nickman, S.L. (1996) Continuing Bonds. Washinton: Taylor and Francis.
  • Neimeyer, R. and Anderson, A. (2002) ‘Meaning Reconstruction Theory’ in N. Thompson (ed.), Loss and Grief. Basingstoke: Palgrave. pp. 45- 64. 
  • Sanders, C.M. (1993) ‘Risk Factors in Bereavement Outcome’ in M.S. Stroebe, W.Stroebe and R.O. Hansson (eds.), Handbook of Bereavement. Cambridge: Cambridge university Press. pp. 255-67.
  • Seligman, M.E.P. (1998) ‘Building Human Strength: psychology’s Forgotten Mission’, American Psychological Association Monitor, 29.1. 
  • Stroebe, M. and Schut, H. (1999) The Dual Process Model of Coping with Bereavement: Rationale and Description. Death Studies, Vol. 23, 197-224.
  • Worden, W. (1983/1991/ 2003) Grief Counselling and Grief Therapy. London: Tavistock/Routledge.