The dual process model of grief offers an attempt to explain why many individuals seem to switch back and forth between mourning and avoiding a loss. This oscillation can occur many times while an individual is grieving, and does not reflect an end of the grief process. The dual process model is an effective coping mechanism to help a bereaved individual understand and accept his personal experience with the grief process.

What is the Dual Process Model of Grief?

The hypothesis of the dual process model is based on the idea that many people undergo periods of alternately experiencing the suffering of loss and avoiding it. Other models suggest that the grief process is linear, but the dual process model proposes that grief can oscillate between experience and avoidance. This is a coping mechanism to prevent the bereaved from becoming overwhelmed by a loss, and is a perfectly normal way for someone to deal with loss.

During loss-orientation, a bereaved individual accepts the suffering of the loss, and works through mental processing of this loss. This period may be characterized by crying and other demonstrations of grief.

During restoration-orientation, an individual explores secondary losses, such as financial repercussions and various decision-making required after a loss. This provides a relief from the emotional drain of mourning.

By switching back and forth between these two mindsets, a bereaved individual is able to moderate suffering to levels that he or she is capable of withstanding at one time. When an individual is no longer able to withstand the loss-orientation phase, this person can then switch to an avoidance behavior that enables him to recharge his emotional batteries, so to speak, in preparation for more mourning.

It’s important to note at these times that avoidance does not reflect an end of grieving, or a sign that the bereaved has forgotten or detached from a deceased individual. Instead, it’s just a normal part of the dual process model.

Practical Applications of the Dual Process Model

An individual who is experiencing severe mental trauma due to the loss of a loved one can intentionally utilize the dual process model to help relieve that suffering. For example, after hours of crying or other grief behavior, a bereaved individual could choose to take a break and focus on other, less draining, activities. The benefit for the bereaved is the understanding that taking a break from grieving does not represent any sort of betrayal - it’s absolutely acceptable to come back to grieving again when one is more capable of withstanding the pain of loss.

For friends and family of the bereaved, understanding this process can help explain why a mourning individual may seem to avoid the loss or the expression of grief. If a mourning individual chooses to take a break from the grieving process, or to focus on activities instead of dealing with the emotional elements of grieving, this is a normal part of the dual process model. Friends and family should expect oscillation between periods of experience and avoidance, and be prepared to provide the support that the bereaved desires during each of these periods. A break from grieving does not signal the end of the grieving process, or a lack of desire to honor or grieve for the dead.