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Moving Beyond the 5-Stage Model: A Passionate Call for Holistic Grief Support



One of my most significant concerns, and perhaps my biggest pet peeve, is the persistent use of the 5-Stage Model in the field of grief support. As someone passionate about helping grieving individuals, I actively engage in online therapist groups. It's disheartening to witness therapists, day after day, seeking guidance on how to support those clients who are grieving.


As previously mentioned in one of my blogs, many therapists find themselves ill-equipped to provide proper assistance in this critical area. Shockingly, over 60% of therapists never received any education on grief and loss during their undergraduate or graduate programs.

In these online discussions, I find it disheartening that many well-intentioned comments still recommend using the 5 Stages with clients. However, let me be clear: relying on the 5-Stage Model is not only outdated but also profoundly lacking in genuine understanding and empathy. And there is no 6th Stage Either!!!


I'm also looking to discover new and effective resources for supporting grieving individuals. I've purchased various materials from platforms like ETSY or Teachers Pay Teachers, only to be repeatedly disappointed when I downloaded them and found that they were teaching children about the 5 stages!


It's time that we collectively move beyond the limitations of the 5-stage model and wholeheartedly embrace more comprehensive, grief-informed and empathetic approaches to assist those who are grieving.


The Limitations of the 5-Stage Model: Unveiling the Truth


The 5-stage model, popularized by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in 1969, was initially developed through observations of dying individuals. However, our society later applied it to the grieving process. Unfortunately, this model is unhelpful, inaccurate, and unsuitable for use with our clients or in educational settings.


  • No Scientific Foundation or Empirical Evidence: Let me emphasize that one of the most significant reasons we need to let go of the 5-stage model is that it lacks any solid scientific foundation. There is not a shred of empirical evidence to support the existence of these stages or their universality across diverse cultures and individuals.

  • Not One-Size-Fits-All: Grief is a highly individualized experience, and trying to fit it into a linear progression of stages is a grave oversimplification of the complex emotional journey individuals go through. People do not neatly and predictably progress through denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Depression is different than grief. Not everyone grieving is depressed!

  • Oversimplification: This model egregiously oversimplifies the multifaceted nature of the grief journey, potentially leaving out crucial emotional nuances. It can inadvertently invalidate the unique experiences and emotions of individuals in their grieving process.

  • Inadequate for Children: Children often express their grief differently, and the 5-stage model is woefully ill-suited to understand their diverse emotional responses, which may manifest through play, art, and behavior.

  • Misapplied and Misrepresentative: It is distressing to witness how often this model is misapplied and how it misrepresents the reality of grief and grieving. Grief is not a one-size-fits-all prescription for how people should navigate their grief.

  • Lack of Interpersonal, Social, and Cultural Context: The 5-stage model, regrettably, fails to consider the deeply influential interpersonal, social, and cultural contexts of grief, which significantly shape how individuals cope with their loss.

  • Unhelpful and Potentially Harmful: It includes prescriptive statements like anger as one of the stages, which may not resonate with everyone. This rigidity can even be harmful, making individuals feel as if they are grieving "wrong."

  • Outdated: Developed in the 1960s, the 5-stage model does not align with our current, more nuanced understanding of grief, which has evolved significantly since then.

The Persistence of Grief Stage Theory: A Call to Action

As Terri Daniel highlighted in her article in the Omega Journal, the stubborn persistence of grief stage theory despite its glaring shortcomings is deeply concerning. The time has come for us to break free from the clutches of this antiquated model and embrace a more compassionate, holistic, and evidence-based approach to supporting those who are grieving. The Stubborn Persistence of Grief Stage Theory - Terri Daniel, 2023 (sagepub.com)


The Path Forward: A Passionate Commitment to Holistic Grief Support

It is imperative that we wholeheartedly embrace a more holistic and individualized approach to grief support. Grief is a profoundly personal journey, and our approach should reflect this truth. To that end, let us explore alternatives such as the Dual Process Model, which underscores the need for individuals to oscillate between the tasks of grieving and the tasks of daily life. Additionally, Worden's Tasks of Grief provide a comprehensive framework for understanding the multifaceted nature of the grieving process.


Let Passion Guide Our Compassion

As therapists and school personnel, it's time for us to rise above the limitations of the 5-stage model and fully embrace compassionate, flexible, and evidence-based approaches to grief support. By doing so, we can offer genuinely meaningful and effective support to individuals as they navigate their unique grief journeys.


If your passion for improving grief support matches mine and you're interested in learning more about these approaches or seeking resources to become grief-informed, don't hesitate to contact me at the Center for Informed Grief. Together, with passion as our guide, we can pave the way for a more compassionate and comprehensive understanding of grief.


Additionally, consider joining the 'Supporting Grieving Students/Children' Facebook group, where passionate professionals share insights and experiences in supporting grieving individuals, because in our shared passion, we find strength and healing.



I'm passionate about improving grief support and helping grieving individuals in the most empathetic and comprehensive way possible. If you want to learn more about this topic, I highly recommend checking out the fantastic article from Terri Daniels. Her insights shed even more light on why it's crucial to move beyond the limitations of the 5-stage model and embrace more compassionate and evidence-based approaches to grief support.


So please stop using the 5 Stages with clients and teaching it in schools!! Let's continue our journey of learning and growth together because, in our shared commitment, we can make a profound difference in the lives of those who are grieving.


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