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The Dual Process Model - and Why It's Important Now.

Many people who are grieving, especially in the earliest days of grief, tend to fall into one of two categories: those who do everything possible to “stay busy” and to distract themselves from their grief, and those who find it difficult to do anything but grieve.


Both extremes are natural and understandable instincts, and which camp we wind up in can depend on a multitude of factors, including your own unique personality and the other things happening in your life. (For example, if we are the POA for our loved one, we may have no choice but to put our grief on hold so that we can tend to things; or, if we have young children or a demanding job, we may feel like we can’t spend time grieving, or we won’t be able to take care of the things that we need to.)


In grief therapy we sometimes talk about something called “the dual process model.” The dual process model of grief can be a little bit confusing, but here we’ll make it as simple as possible. The model posits that, for healthy grief, a person must oscillate, or go back and forth, between two distinct processes: loss-oriented coping, and restoration-oriented coping.


This is an oversimplification, but what that means, more or less, is that one must alternate between confronting the loss and avoiding the loss. To heal, we cannot be only focused on our grief all of the time, nor can we be always distracting ourselves from it – there must be a balance. But what does this balance look like?


Examples of loss-oriented coping, or active “grief-work” might include looking at old photos of your loved one, reminiscing, reading old letters, or imagining that they are with you. Examples of restoration-oriented coping might include tackling things like changing names on accounts and titles, learning to do new tasks, or even watching TV or exercising.


In the midst of everything going on with COVID-19, the theory behind the dual process model feels more important for mental and emotional health than ever. If you are like us, you may have had difficulty thinking about anything other than the pandemic, and how this all might play out. Even though it is normal and understandable, fixating on the pandemic and anxiously worrying about the outcome or how long this might last doesn’t change anything, it only adds to our anxiety and robs us of peace. Just as in healthy grief, we must oscillate between active work (i.e. staying informed and diligent), and finding healthy distraction.


Today, try to apply the dual process model to your life. Spend some time doing grief work. If you don’t know where to start, check out our daily journaling prompt. Or, spend a little time looking through keepsakes that remind yourself of your loved one. Or, just let yourself cry.


Next, spend some time distracting yourself from your grief. Maybe this means watching a favorite movie, or taking a nap. If you’re stuck, check out the “One Small Thing” section of this website, where we offer one small daily activity for self-care.


It’s okay to take breaks from your grief and to try to do things that make you feel good. And it’s okay too if this feels really hard to do right now. Wherever you are, be gentle with yourself; nothing about this is easy, but, finding a balance between grief work and reinvesting in life is necessary for healing. It might take some time and practice to figure out what this looks like for you, and that’s okay too.


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