Coping With Loss

Photograph © 2016 Zinka Mihevc

In this third article on loss we deal with coping skills, after having dealt with the question about whether a person must be coerced into talking about their loss in the first article and what the grieving process entails in the second article.

People use different strategies to deal with loss: The so-called coping skills. One of the often used questionnaires in the Netherlands to measure which types of coping skills people use when faced with adversity is the Utrecht Coping List (Schreurs, Van de Willige, Brosschot, Tellegen, & Graus, 1993) in which seven styles are described: Actively engaging the problem; amelioration of the consequences; avoiding the issue; seeking social support; doing nothing whatsoever; expressing emotions; and self-verbalisation of comforting thoughts. Usually, each individual has a preference for one or two of these styles.

A loss can, however, be more than just ‘an ordinary adversity’. There also isn’t one right way to deal with a loss. It is more a question of whether the coping style the client uses is appropriate and effective in the current situation. For example, a person may tend to actively engage problems – for them, a problem needs a solution, and that solution needs to be found and executed. Yet this strategy often fails when used after losing a loved one. By not taking the time to grieve and doing their best to ‘get on with life’, this can leave them with a feeling of guilt towards the person lost, preventing them from picking up their life where they left off; their coping strategy fails, causing them only to feel even more wretched. Somehow they will need to find a more fitting coping strategy to deal with this particular adversity. The point really is that dealing with a loss requires a different set of coping skills than those used for ordinary, every-day adversities.

The Dual Process Model (Stroebe & Schut, 2010) distinguishes between two types of coping: Loss-oriented and restoration-oriented; see Table 1. By restoration-oriented coping skills, they mean how the client adjusts to the new situation that arises as a result of the loss. The ‘dual’ in the process is the point of departure whereby a dynamic switching between styles of coping seems beneficial for long-term well-being, because one needs to recuperate from the energy a particular style of coping requires. Their preliminary research seems to indicate that using only one particular coping style in an intense manner is a good predictor for problematic grief. There are several similarities between this model and the tasks of Worden (2009), dealt with in a previous article, yet the dynamic switching as point of departure and the ability to predict problematic grief are specific to this model. This means that when you notice someone is intensely and exclusively busy with one form of coping, to the exclusion of other form, it might be useful to help them find a balance by encouraging them to alternate with the other style.

Table 1 Dual process model (Stroebe & Schut, 2010)

Loss-oriented: Grief tasks/grief work; Loss centre stage; Letting go – continuation – displacing connections; Denial or avoidance of restoration

Restoration-oriented: Attention for change; Doing new things; Seeking distraction from grieving; Denial or avoidance of grief; New roles, identities and relationships

The other aspect stressed in the model is the difference between coping, which is a process, and that which is the result or consequence of that process. This distinction is also important because the outcome is less important than the process. This means not evaluating the grief progress by the outcomes of specific actions, because its dynamic nature means that one task done well does not mean that the others also have been completed. People need to concentrate on alternating between styles of coping.

There also seem to be gender differences: Men make more use of restoration-oriented coping sooner, whereas women typically give more attention to dealing with the loss. The question, when there are two persons dealing with a loss, whether one or the other is ‘grieving as much’, can then be explained in terms that ‘the other is grieving in a different manner’.

Bibliography

  • Schreurs, P. J., Van de Willige, G., Brosschot, J. F., Tellegen, B., & Graus, G. M. (1993). De Utrechtse Coping Lijst UCL [The Utrecht Coping List]. Amsterdam: Pearson.
  • Stroebe, M., & Schut, H. (2010). The dual process model of coping – a decade on. Omega, 61, 273-289.
  • Worden, J. W. (2009). Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy, Fourth Edition: A Handbook for the Mental Health Practitioner. New York: Springer.

Excerpted from: Van Alphen, M.F. (2016). Observational Listening – The (Missing) Link between Emotion and Communication. Bloomington: Authorhouse UK.

Dutch book on Observational Listening: Van Alphen, M.F. (2015). Psychosociale gespreksvoering – observatief luisteren in de hulpverlening. Amsterdam: Boom.

Photograph: copyright Zinka Mihevc, 2016

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