Coping with Traumatic Life Events

6 June 2016

 “All this time, I thought I was learning to live, when all along, I was learning to die.” So said Leonardo da Vinci. We read his words, smile and think to ourselves that they don’t really apply to us. Why so? Most Westerners run from even the talk of death. True, we cry at movies like Terms of Endearment when dying is unrealistically romanticized; we weep at funerals, cheer when the bad guys die on television, and shudder at newspaper accounts of catastrophes, though we soon get over it. But as for the thought of our own death, we avoid discussing it at all cost. We deny death because we are afraid of it.

This fear is so deeply ingrained that it keeps us from being fully in the present. It takes attention to hold off death. We plan. We become anxious. We busy ourselves so we do not have to think about it. And we lose contact with present time and present place where wonder and joy–and not death—exist.

Coping with Traumatic Life Events Essay Example


Mourning is a complex process in which the bereaved separate and detach themselves from loved ones who have died and replace them with new relationships. If the work of grieving is handled well, new ties can afford equivalent or greater satisfaction to needs formerly satisfied by lost relationships. On the other hand, if restitutive relationships are not established or are incapable of equivalent satisfaction, the process of mourning becomes diverted, remaining incomplete and in danger of becoming dysfunctional.

Mourning is a stressful process. It takes its toll psychologically as well as physiologically. Dysfunctional grief is the root if an astonishingly high proportion of emotional, behavioral, addictive and psychosomatic disorders. The literature of psychotherapy is rich with case materials relating symptomatology to dysfunctional grief. In recent years, an increasing body of data has accumulated relating significant increases in the incidence of physical illness and death to populations experiencing the loss of spouse or other central family members. Parkes, Bereavement: Studies of Grief in Adult Life (1973), summarizes the results of a number of studies.

He concludes that mourning is a powerful stressor, subjugating body and psyche to crushing pressures, which frequently cause mental and physical illness. A survey of studies on the psychological effects of childhood bereavement is found in Chapter 9 of Furman’s (1974) volume on childhood bereavement. These studies strongly suggest that childhood bereavement, even more than adult bereavement, can be a significant factor in the development of various forms of mental illness and adult maladjustment.

Counseling the bereaved

Counseling can shorten the period of unresolved grief, and it can increase the probability of establishing satisfactory replacement relationships. This help can be useful in preventing and minimizing the pathological outcome of bereavement. Those interested in primary prevention of mental illness see bereavement as a crucial area requiring further research and new services.

This paper takes a look at this event in one’s life and the different ways by which academic and clinical psychologists identify ways of coping that facilitates coping during these traumatic events. This hopes to guide professionals in helping the bereaved by establishing theoretical and clinical benchmarks for assessing the individual situation. The bereavement counseling task is complex and emotionally draining. The novice counselor will find it difficult to translate theoretical formulations into successful clinical work without supervision.

Authors Wortman and Cohen Silver pose the question on whether certain beliefs or assumptions about how people should react to the loss of a loved one that is prevalent to Western Cultures. Thus, to determine whether such assumptions exist, they then review some theoretical modes of reactions to loss such as Freud and Bowlby’s. Apparently, it was revealed that there are strong assumptions about the grieving process in Western society. The study also demonstrates that if counseling fore bereaved individuals is based on these erroneous assumptions, then it may ultimately prove unhelpful.

Understanding bereavement

Early in his clinical work with healthy and dysfunctional grief, the author concluded that a theoretical map to guide the clinician through the labyrinths of normal grief is a necessity. Without a baseline description of normal grief, it is difficult to distinguish factors that lead to pathology. The writings of Lindemann (1944), Glick, Weiss and Parkes (1974), and Parkes (1973), in particular, extended the author’s thinking about the phenomena of normal bereavement. The five-stage theory of a patient’s response to terminal illness, developed by Kubler-Ross (1969), made available a theoretical model for describing the bereavement process.

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