The Truth About Grief

The Truth About Grief: The Myth of its Five Stages and the New Science of Loss

Konigsberg reviews the history of grief and concludes that the five stages of grief are a myth in light of the most recent research.

Reviewed by Larry Yeagley, a retired pastor, chaplain, and author residing in Gentry, Arkansas, United States.



The Truth About Grief is the most comprehensive history of the death and dying movement I have read. Ruth Davis Konigsberg interviewed leading people in the movement and participated in their support groups and training. Her book does not rely on hearsay.

Skepticism of the stages has been building steadily since the early 1970s. Richard Schulz and David Aderman, when at Duke University, looked into the existing research to see whether there was any support for the stages, which there was none (10).

Konigsberg refers to the research of George Bonanno of Columbia University Teachers College in which he overturned the Kubler-Ross theory upon which we have relied for 40 years.* Konigsberg reviews that history and concludes the five stages of grief to be a myth in view of the most recent research. These five stages of grief were meant to describe  what a person experiences when facing personal death, not the death of another person. Also, the myth that everyone who loses a loved one needs counseling is laid to rest with good research that shows that at least 80 percent of griev­ing people are resilient and adjust well without counseling.

The author mentions the influx of grief counselors into New York when the Towers collapsed. She shows that most of the families who lost a loved one preferred the support of family as well as others who lost loved ones. She suggested that immediate grief coun­seling can harm instead of heal. She commented that the rush to counseling could be attributed to the stripping of religious faith and ritual, which results in lack of support for the bereaved.

I was a part of the death and dying movement in the 1970s. Along with oth­ers, I used Kubler-Ross’s stages of grief, but not for long. In my first support  group, a woman angrily said, “Mister, don’t you go putting us grieving people in a psychological box. We all have lost in a unique way, and we will all grieve in a unique way.”

I quickly learned that the stages are a myth. They are not based on the foundation of sound scientific and practical evidence. I would recommend that all pastors study Konigsberg’s book. Parishioners will benefit from her insights.

—Reviewed by Larry Yeagley, a retired pastor, chaplain, and author residing in Gentry, Arkansas, United States.

* George A. Bonanno, The Other Side of Sadness: What the New Science of Bereavement Tells Us About Life After Loss (New York: Basic Books, 2009).

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Reviewed by Larry Yeagley, a retired pastor, chaplain, and author residing in Gentry, Arkansas, United States.



June 2014

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