Grief is an emotion that all human beings are likely to feel at some time in their lives. For many the grief process can be lonely, confusing and prolonged. For this reason, psychologists have long sought ways to ease this process. Early on researchers found that various forms of art proved effective in aiding individuals in the grief process. This realm of treatment became known as "Expressive art therapies" and allows patients to express feelings through various methods related to the arts. These methods include music therapy, art therapy and writing therapy. Expressive therapies have been essential in helping people cope with loss, particularly in the case of an unexpected death.
There has long been a connection between bereavement and the power of art to heal. In most cases people focused on music in particular, the use of music to calm the bereaved is even present in the Bible. More recently, researchers have sought to understand more about this phenomenon. Preliminary research into this topic suggests that people benefit greatly form bereavement counseling that incorporates expressive art therapy. This expressive art may come in the form of letter writing, music or photography. The research indicates that such therapy allows people to examine the relationship that they had with the lost loved one and bring closure to that relationship. In addition, expressive arts allows people to express their feeling without being judged. In addition expressive arts is effective because it allows people to express through are what they may not be able to communicate verbally. The preliminary research suggests that expressive art therapy is here to stay and that counselors desire to improve the approach to expressive writing.
For the purposes of this discussion, the researcher will focus on the expressive writing realm of the expressive arts therapies. The researchers will demonstrate how expressive writing affects the grief process by allowing patients to express exactly how they feel through such things as poetry and journal writing. Empirical research will be provided that details the research that has been conducted concerning this topic. The researcher will demonstrate that thought processes involved in such activities gives the patient the opportunity to understand and accept their loss. The research questions will include the following;
Does grief effect everyone in the same manner?
How does expressive writing aid people in the grieving process?
What are the common forms of expressive writing?
How do counselors measure the success of expressive writing therapies?
This particular topic is of interests because grief can be debilitating and impede upon an individual's ability to properly care for themselves or their families. Grief is also a universal emotion that can impact anyone. In addition, in the light of the recent natural disaster in which thousands of people died unexpectedly, researchers must find innovative and universal ways of helping people deal with grief.
Review of Literature
Grief can occur for different reasons but the most pronounced grief is usually caused by the loss of a loved one. This grief is particularly difficult if the loss was unexpected. Larson and Nolen-Hoeksema (1999) assert that people cope with grief differently and for different lengths of time. The authors explain, "there are wide differences in the specific strategies people use to cope with the emotional and practical consequences of a loss. These differences may be tied to the type of loss people have experienced, their age or gender, and their basic personality characteristics (Larson and Nolen-Hoeksema 1999; pg 62)." Arnason (2001) explains that grief is thought of as some sort of path with a beginning and an end. The metaphors of 'journey' and 'process' structure grief and emphasize its ordinariness (Arnason 2001)." For some this process can be prolonged and prevent them from participating in everyday activities. Thompson (2003) asserts
"Daily habits are disrupted, activities associated with valued roles are lost, and life plans are de-railed in the wake of significant loss. Intimately linked to these tangible experiences is the realm of the imagination, from which symbols and meaning emerge. Significant loss undoes the ways we have imagined ourselves in the world, uprooting us from the ground of meaning that has supported our sense of interconnected whole-ness (Thompson, 2003).
In his book The Heart of Grief: Death and the Search for Lasting Love Attig (2000) asserts that the very things that are painful to remember during the bereavement period are actually the things that will provide the most comfort once the grief is confronted (Attig, 2000). The author explains that "When we come to terms with our feelings of hurt, we tame them somewhat; we loosen their grip on us and gain some control over them. Rarely do we make them go away entirely or render ourselves immune to them. As we learn to carry these feelings, we realize there is room in our hearts for more than the pain and anguish of separation. We find that we can open our hearts to other experiences (Attig, 2000)."
Indeed grief can be a destructive force in ones life and lead to other problems such as depression and anxiety. There are several reasons why the death of a loved one can cause an adverse reaction in people. For the purposes of this discussion, we will focus on two of these reasons; attachment theory and sudden or unexpected death. Over the next few paragraphs these topics will be explored in further detail.
Fast (2003; pg 484) Grief is a difficult emotion to deal with because of the bonds that are formed. This bond is defined as the attachment theory and is most common in the parent/child relationship. According to fast (2003) much of the current knowledge pertaining to grief is derivative of research formulated by Bowlby (1977), a British psychiatrist. Through his research on animal and human behavior, he discovered the "attachment theory" in describing the connection between human beings and the emotional problems that occur when this connection is broken. Fast (2003) explains that such connections occur because of the need for security which are developed in childhood and usually involve close family members or guardians.
Hazan and Shaver (1994) argue that every healthy human infant becomes attached to their main caregiver, during the first 8 months of life. The researcher insists that secondary attachments to other people are also formed simultaneously (Hazan and Shaver 1994). However, researchers have come to no consensus about when secondary attachments form (Hazan and Shaver 1994). Nevertheless, they do concede that both children and infant have multiple attachments (Hazan and Shaver 1994). The bonds that are usually considered attachments include immediacy maintenance and safe-haven and secure-base behaviors and are usually developed with other adults and older siblings (Hazan and Shaver 1994). Fast (2003) explains that 'In normal maturation, the child becomes ever more independent, moving away from the figure of attachment, and returning periodically for safety and security. If the bonds are threatened, the individual will try to restore them through crying, clinging, or other types of coercion; if they are destroyed, withdrawal, apathy, and despair will follow (Fast 2003; pg 484)."
Fast (2003) asserts that when someone looses a person who is a "figure of attachment" the grief that occurs is often compared to a disease (Fast 2003). The author explains that just as a burn is painful for the body, the loss of the figure of attachment is painful for the psyche (Fast 2003). The author also explains that grief requires the same type of healing as a physical wound (Fast 2003).
The attachment theory suggests that the grief that is observed in bereaved individuals is indicative of a bond that is formed in early childhood. The research asserts that this bond is so great that the loss of the loved one changes the bereaves entire outlook on life. In addition, the loss of the figure of attachment may cause the bereaved to feel insecure and unsafe.
Sudden or Unexpected death
As most people assume sudden or unexpected death can prolong the grief process. According to Fast (2003) both sudden and unexpected deaths have unique characteristics that are difficult for patients and practitioners to confront. The author explains that this type of death places unique demands on the survivors. The author also posits that sudden death is different from a death caused by prolonged illness in relation to the intensity of the grief. Fast (2003) points to a groundbreaking study performed by Lindemann (1944). The research involved the families of 101 college students who were killed and a nightclub. The research found that 'The majority of those counseled exhibited some type of somatic or bodily distress, preoccupation with the image of the deceased, guilt relating to the deceased, hostile reactions, and the inability to regain their preloss level of functioning. Lindemann found that the survivors of sudden death were more likely to experience what he characterized as abnormal or pathological grief ... And that the grief would endure longer and be more difficult to resolve (Fast (2003; pg 484)."