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Grief Theories Series: Dual Process Model of Grief

by | Apr 5, 2018 | For Families

sad woman wearing hat in city

For as universal as grief is, it’s something that is still little understood. We will all grieve and mourn a loss at some point in our life. That is, unfortunately, certain. But what’s uncertain is how we will grieve. It’s uncertain how we will mourn. And it’s uncertain how we will cope as we make our own journey through our grief and try to find a path toward healing.

Despite the uncertainty, there have been attempts to identify and define certain aspects of grief. In this ongoing series, we will explore the different theories that try to define grief. In this segment, we’ll cover the Dual Process Model of Grief. To see the other theories we’ve covered so far, click on the links below.

It’s important to remember that these theories are just that — theories. In reality, grief isn’t as simple as a list of steps or stages, and everyone grieves in their own unique way.

Stroebe and Schut

The Dual Process model of coping is another relatively new theory of grief. It was developed by Margarate Stroebe and Henk Shut and presented in their study called “The Dual Process Model of Coping with Bereavement: A Decade On.”

During their study, they found what they believed “shortcomings in traditional theorizing about effective ways of coping with bereavement, most notably, with respect to the so-called ‘grief work hypothesis.’” These “grief work” models tend to focus on telling us to “work through” or “face our grief head-on,” as the best method for “getting over” a loss.

And as anyone who has ever lost someone they love knows, facing our grief head-on can be exhausting. Somedays we just won’t feel up to it. And that’s exactly what the Dual Process model proposes.

What Stroebe and Schut found in their study was that there are two emotional processes that represent human grief. And that people will experience oscillation — a process of jumping back and forth between these two emotional process. This process of oscillation is ongoing throughout our everyday life while we cope with a loss.

The two processes are what give us the name of the Dual Process model. And these two processes are loss-oriented and restoration-oriented modes of grief.


During the loss-oriented process, we express our grief through powerful grief-related emotions. As we begin to recognize the reality of the loss and confront our own emotions, Stroebe and Schut say that we will face “loss-oriented stressors”. These stressors include things like thoughts, feelings, actions, and memories that cause us to feel grief and focus on the loss.

Things like old photos, recalling specific memories, or even a familiar scent that reminds us of a loved one are all loss-oriented stressors that make us feel powerful emotions associated with loss, such as sadness, anger, and loneliness.

According to their theory, it’s part of a natural response to loss. And it’s how we begin to confront and process the reality of the loss.


The restoration-oriented process, according to Stroebe and Schut, is the process of coping with secondary losses and learning our new roles and responsibilities. They state “When a loved one dies, not only is their grief for the deceased person, one also has to adjust to substantial changes that are secondary consequences of loss… a myriad of emotional reactions can be involved in coping with these tasks of restoration, from relief and pride that one has mastered a new skill or taken the courage to go out alone, to anxiety and fear that one will not succeed or despair at the loneliness of being with others and yet on one’s own.”

Restoration-oriented responses might include having to cook or clean around the house more. It also could include bigger changes, such as managing the household finances or accepting our new identity from spouse to widow/widower.

Stroebe and Schut believe these restoration-oriented responses can be healthy for most people. They give us something to focus on and provide a small break from focusing on our loss-oriented responses. Heather Stang, in a blog post for Mindfulness & Grief, writes that “During restoration-oriented activities, you are able to focus on day-to-day tasks and get at least temporary relief from the emotional drain of your loss.”

The key part of the dual process model is the “oscillation,” or the idea of jumping back and forth between our loss-oriented responses and our restoration-oriented responses.


The dual process model is a dynamic model of grief because it recognizes that we won’t ever fully “get over” a loss. At one moment we might be focusing on our new roles (restoration-oriented), but even a few hours later, we might be processing the grief and emotion from the loss again (loss-oriented).

Stroebe and Schut believe this is natural and should be embraced. They state that “At times the bereaved will be confronted by their loss, at other times they will avoid memories, be distracted, or seek relief by concentration on other things.”

The important thing to remember is that the dual process model relies on balance. Too much focus on one process can be harmful, especially if it means we avoid confronting the emotions of loss altogether — which leads to complicated grief.

What are your thoughts on the Dual Process model? Share with us in the comments below! In our next segment, we’ll explore the modern models of grief.


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