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Grief Myths

Grief is one of the most challenging human experiences. Despite how common grief is, our understanding of it remains limited. Stage theories—such as Kübler Ross’s—attempt to make sense of grief, but research suggests that they do not capture the full picture. Most of us grieve in ways that do not quite fit any existing model.

Even so, many have strong opinions about how individuals “should” grieve. These expectations can bring up anxiety, guilt, and even shame in clients dealing with grief.

The Grief Myths handout debunks common myths about grief and promotes a more flexible and inclusive perspective. Some of the myths addressed include the belief that there is a “right” way to grieve, a set time frame for grief to last, and a series of distinct stages that grief always follows. The aim is to normalize clients’ experiences and encourage them to reject unhelpful generalizations, particularly those that lack empirical evidence. The worksheet also invites reflection on how to support others in their grief.

Use this handout to validate your client’s unique grief experience and identify topics for further exploration. You can also share this with a client’s loved ones and any colleagues who work with grief.

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References

1. Bonanno, G. A., & Kaltman, S. (2001). The varieties of grief experience. Clinical Psychology Review, 21(5), 705–734.

2. Friedman, R., & James, J. W. (2009). The myth of the stages of dying, death and grief. Counseling Today, 51(9), 48–50.

3. Konigsberg, R. D. (2011). The truth about grief: The myth of its five stages and the new science of loss. Simon & Schuster.

4. Kübler-Ross, E. (1970). On death and dying. Macmillan.

5. Lilienfeld, S. O., Lynn, S. J., Ruscio, J., & Beyerstein, B. L. (2010). Busting big myths in popular psychology. Scientific American Mind, 21(1), 42–49.

6. Lotterman, J. H., Bonanno, G. A., & Galatzer-Levy, I. (2014). The heterogeneity of long-term grief reactions. Journal of Affective Disorders, 167, 12–19. https://doi-org.libproxy.unm.edu/10.1016/j.jad.2014.05.048

7. Neimeyer, R. A. (2012). The (half) truth about grief. Illness Crisis and Loss, 20(4), 389–396.

8. Weller, F. (2015). The wild edge of sorrow: Rituals of renewal and the sacred work of grief. North Atlantic Books.

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