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How to Successfully Work Through Grief and Loss

It is crucial to remember, as counsellors, that grief is very individual and unique. However, research shows that there are certain common stages and tasks that are shared by most people who are dealing with a loss. One popular construct that describes this hard experience is J. William Worden’s Task Oriented Model. 

Understanding the Model

As the title implies, Worden saw healthy grieving as working through a series of specific, common tasks. These need to be resolved to fully integrate the loss – so the person is able to move on with their life. Worden saw this as empowering and freeing for the client as it helps them to find meaning and new hope again. But the work is often hard – and it is easy to get stuck, or to give up before they have recovered from their loss. This is seen in the following comment by Worden in his book Grief Counselling and Grief Therapy, (2001, p27):

“It is possible for someone to accomplish some of these tasks and not others, and hence have an incomplete adaptation to the loss, just as one might have incomplete healing from a wound”.

Worden also points out that for some individuals, the tasks won’t follow a sequential order. However, the key ingredient for progress is being willing to work – and not being a passive recipient of grief.                    

What are the Four Tasks in the Model?

Worden’s four tasks include the following

Task 1 - To accept the reality of the loss: When someone dies, even where this was expected, there will usually be a sense of unreality. This is due to the fact that our minds are designed to protect us from the shock, and finality, of death. Thus, the first task of grieving is confronting the hard truth that the person has now gone and will never return. Thus, the relationship is over – and we cannot get them back.

Task 2 - To work through the pain of grief: The experience and intensity of pain will differ depending on a number of key factors and issues. These include: the circumstances of death (violent versus non-violent, expected versus unexpected), age (the death of a child is harder to accept than the death of an elderly person), the quality of relationship (whether we were very close to that person, or the relationship was fractured and volatile), and so on. But to recover from the loss and to mourn successfully, the actual pain must be worked through on an emotional level. We can’t just think about, or talk about, our loss.

Task 3 - To adjust to an environment in which the deceased is missing: Worden lists three areas where adjustments must be made, in order to accept and recover from our loss. These are:

·         External adjustments: It can take months or years to fully grasp and adjust to the numerous changes that result from death and loss.

·         Internal adjustments: Our sense of who we are – or our core identity - is partly defined by our relationships with others (such as a parent, partner, sibling, child or spouse.) Thus, when that person dies it affects our sense of self.

·         Spiritual adjustments: Death often challenges our faith and beliefs and can cause us think about the meaning of life. “Is this all there is?”; “what am I living for?”; “Is there life after death?”; “How do I want to live my life?”

Task 4 - To emotionally relocate the deceased and move on with life: If the process of working through our grief is successful, in time we should be able to face life again. That is, we can look back and be grateful for the times we had together, and laugh about and talk about the memories we shared – whilst also being able to appreciate the present, and to think about a future that could hold some meaning, too.

Note: Although this model was designed to deal with death and mourning, it could also be applied to any kind of loss – such as the death of a meaningful relationship. 

Filed under counselling psychology psychiatry loss death relationships life therapy mourning Worden Christian counselling Grief Counselling grief sadness sorrow

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The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggles, known loss, and found their way out of the depths. These people have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people don’t just happen.
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

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