Why God Allows Suffering

Religious Counseling and Understanding

We're all affected by grief at one time or another. It can be difficult to provide counseling and guidance for those in your church. Understanding the Ebb & Flow Model of the grieving process will aid you in lending support to your congregation.

In contrast to the more rigid Five Stage Model championed by Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, John Bowlby, a noted psychologist, has proposed a more flexible approach to grief which we'll call the Ebb & Flow model.

This theory holds that the various parts of the grieving experience shift and overlap based upon things like circumstance, age, and an individual's personality. In the Ebb & Flow view, all aspects of the grieving process may take place at the same time. When dealing with multiple grievers, this model may help you to better understand and offer comfort to your congregation and their differing needs. The four parts of this way of thinking about grief are detailed below.

Shock and Numbness
People going through grief may experience feelings of shock and numbness, often when they first learn of an illness or the death of a loved one. They often experience feelings of unreality, depersonalization, and withdrawal. Self-protective behavior is not uncommon, which leads to the perception that people in shock are "strong and stoic". Be aware that such behavior is generally a defense against the pain of a person's loss.

Yearning and Searching
Another part of the grieving process may include a strong desire to look for or be with a person who has passed on. This fruitless searching for a lost loved one is typically called "pining," and may last for some time after the death. Though the experience can be quite unsettling, it is fairly common for people to see or hear the deceased. Let them know that this is normal - they aren't crazy, they're just in pain.

Disorganization and Despair
This is the period that we generally call "mourning" -- the experience of severe pain associated with being permanently separated from a loved one. It generally consists of feelings of extreme sadness, hopelessness, and despair, and may sometimes trigger the onset of depression. There is often no cure for these feelings but time. This is a hard truth, and should be shared judiciously with those grieving.

Reorganization occurs when the grieving person fully assimilates their loss. It is typically accompanied by a redefinition of life. People must learn how to live without the deceased, and to find new meaning in light of their loss. For elderly people who have lived with their spouses for many years, this process may take the rest of their lives.

The Ebb & Flow model is ultimately a more organic and holistic view of grief. It highlights the fact that no two persons' grief follow the same pattern, while at the same time recognizing trends and commonalities between the ways in which we all deal with loss. Understanding how the various parts of the grieving experience affect us will help you to better offer advice and counsel to your parishioners in their time of need.

Written by: Bob Robertson