The Implications of Bereavement Theory for Art Therapy

The featured paper is about bereavement theory and its relationship to art therapy in a paper titled ‘Current bereavement theory: Implications for art therapy practice’. The aims of the paper are to outline some contemporary theories of bereavement and how they might impact on art therapy. The authors begin by looking at Freud’s theory of bereavement which was first described in the paper ‘Mourning and Melancholia’ in 1917. In this theory, Freud described a number of stages through which a person passes following bereavement in which they work through the loss. This theory however has been criticised for a number of reasons including the need for distinct and sequential phases of grieving as well as the limited emotions considered in the process.

They then go on to discuss two contemporary models of bereavement – the dual process model and the meaning-reconstruction model – together with their implications for art therapy.

In the dual-process model, Stroebe and Schut propose that bereavement involves the person addressing their loss (loss-orientation) at the same time as adapting to their new life after the loss (restoration-orientation). The person does not move from one phase to another but rather goes through periods of focusing on one or the other of the orientations. This move between orientations creates meaning for the person. In terms of art therapy, the authors suggest that the therapist can recognise these orientations and allow the person to explore them through the medium of art.

In the meaning-reconstruction model, Neimeyer adopts a constructivist approach and proposes that during bereavement, a person focuses on meaning. This occurs in a number of ways – the construct of death as well as the self-narrative may be reconstructed (this can be done in relation to the deceased as well as important others). Also the role of feelings as contributing to the creation of meaning is suggested. When identity is reconstructed, this has implications for relationships with others which may need to be re-evaluated. This can be supported in therapy through the use of role-playing or exploration of relationships through other media.

The authors discuss a number of other issues including similarities and differences between the two models above. They also describe the use of a memorial piece to structure the grief that may occur during significant anniversaries.

This paper is interesting for a number of reasons. Firstly the authors focus on the possibility that disturbing emotions can serve a purpose – for instance in generating meaning which in turn may drive changes in identity. These considerations can also be relevant in the adjustment disorders. Secondly the authors examine how the practice of art therapy might be influenced by theoretical developments and in particular by theoretical models. This is done explicitly and it perhaps is even driven by a search for another (more practical) meaning in the models. Thirdly gaining such insights into the work of colleagues can facilitate the identification of relevant resources for patients and services.



Lister S, Pushkar D and Connolly K. Current bereavement theory: Implications for art therapy practice. The Arts in Psychotherapy. 35. 2008. 245-250.


The comments made here represent the opinions of the author and do not represent the profession or any body/organisation. The comments made here are not meant as a source of medical advice and those seeking medical advice are advised to consult with their own doctor. The author is not responsible for the contents of any external sites that are linked to in this blog.


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