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Grief Therapy and the Reconstruction of Meaning: From Principles to Practice

Abstract

Viewed from a constructivist perspective, grieving is a process of reconstructing a world of meaning that has been challenged by loss. Although most people successfully navigate bereavement and retain or return to pre-loss levels of functioning, a significant proportion struggle with protracted grief, and are unable to find meaning in the wake of an unsought transition. For these individuals, constructivist therapists have a number of strategies at their disposal that foster meaning making and help clients reestablish a coherent self-narrative that integrates the loss, while also permitting their life story to move forward along new lines. After reviewing theory and evidence that scaffolds this constructivist conceptualization, this article draws on excerpts of therapy with two bereaved clients to illustrate how narrative retelling, therapeutic writing, a focus on metaphorical language, and the use of visualization can all be viable strategies in helping individuals reconstruct meaning in the wake of bereavement.

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Correspondence to Robert A. Neimeyer.

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Robert A. Neimeyer, PhD, is a Professor of Psychology at the University of Memphis, where he maintains both an active research group and a clinical practice. At the time of this writing, Laurie Burke, M.S., Michael Mackay, M.S. and Jessica Stringer, M.S. are all pursuing doctoral training in this setting.

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Neimeyer, R.A., Burke, L.A., Mackay, M.M. et al. Grief Therapy and the Reconstruction of Meaning: From Principles to Practice. J Contemp Psychother 40, 73–83 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10879-009-9135-3

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Keywords

  • Bereavement
  • Grief therapy
  • Meaning-making
  • Constructivism