elisabeth kübler-ross - five stages of grief
kubler-ross model for death and bereavement counselling, personal
change and trauma
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross (which is the correctspelling; Elizabeth Kubler Ross is a common
incorrect form and used above for search-engine visibility). Incidentally, 'counselling' is UK
English and 'counseling' is US English.
Dr Elisabeth Kübler-Ross pioneered methods in the support and counselling of personal
trauma, grief and grieving, associated with death and dying. She also dramatically improved
the understanding and practices in relation to bereavement and hospice care.
Her ideas, notably the five stages of grief model (denial, anger, bargaining, depression,
acceptance), are also transferable to personal change and emotional upset resulting from factors
other than death and dying.
We can clearly observe similar reactions to those explained by Kübler-Ross's grief model in
people confronted with far less serious traumas than death and bereavement, such as by work
redundancy, enforced relocation, crime and punishment, disability and injury, relationship
break-up, financial despair and bankruptcy, etc.
This makes the model worthy of study and reference far outside of death and bereavement. The
'grief cycle' is actually a 'change model' for helping to understand and deal with (and counsel)
personal reaction to trauma. It's not just for death and dying.
This is because trauma and emotional shock are relative in terms of effect on people. While
death and dying are for many people the ultimate trauma, people can experience similar
emotional upsets when dealing with many of life's challenges, especially if confronting
something difficult for the first time, and/or if the challenge happens to threaten an area of
psychological weakness, which we all possess in different ways. One person's despair (a job-
change, or exposure to risk or phobia, etc) is to another person not threatening at all. Some
people love snakes and climbin mountains, whereas to others these are intensely scary things.
Emotional response, and trauma, must be seen in relative not absolute terms. The model helps
remind us that the other person's perspective is different to our own, whether we are the one in
shock, or the one helping another to deal with their upset.
The study of death and dying is actually known as thanatology (from the Greek word 'thanatos'
meaning death). Elisabeth Kübler-Ross is according sometimes referred to as a thanatologist,
and she is considered to have contributed significantly to the creation of the genre of
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross's seminal book was On Death& Dying, published in 1969, in which she
explained her now classically regarded 'five stages of grief'. The book and its ideas were quite
revolutionary at the time, reflecting Kübler-Ross's outspoken and bold approach, which is
paradoxical given the sensitivity and compassion of her concepts.
Kübler-Ross was a catalyst. She opened up and challenged previously conservative (sweep it
under the carpet, don't discuss it, etc) theories and practices relating t death and bereavement,
and received an enormously favourable response among carers, the dying and the bereaved,
which perhaps indicates the level of denial and suppression that had earlier characterised
conventional views about the subject - particularly in the western world, where death is more of
a taboo than in certain other cultures.
As stated, and important to emphasise, Kübler-Ross's five stages of grief model was developed
initially as a model for helping dying patients to cope with death and bereavement, however the
concept also provides insight and guidance for coming to terms with personal trauma and
change, and for helping others with emotional adjustment and coping, whatever the cause. This
has probably helped her ideas to spread and to enter 'mainstream' thinking.
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and her ideas have now become synonymous with emotional response
to trauma, and to grief support and counselling, much like Maslow is fundamentally associated
with motivational theory; Kolb with learning styles, and Gardner with multiple intelligence.
As with much other brilliant pioneering work, the Kübler-Ross model is elegantly simple. The
five stages of grief model is summarised and interpreted below.
This Kübler-Ross five stages and terminology are featured here with permission from the
Elisabeth Kübler Ross Foundatio which is gratefully acknowledged. Please look at the two
websites www.ekrfoundation.org, and www.elisabthkublerross.com, both of which enable and
sustain Dr Kübler-Ross's values and mission, and extend help to those who need it.
Please be aware that the interpretation and contextual material on this webpage represents my
own thoughts on the subject. I would encourage you to develop your own ideas too - this is a
deeply significant area and one that can be interpreted in many ways. My interpretation and
associations are not an attempt to reproduce Kübler-Ross's thinking, they seek to provide a
modern context, and to relate the basic model to the philosophies of this website.
Use of and reference to the Elisabeth Kübler-Ross five stages for commercial purposes, and
publication of EKR quotations, require permission from the EKR Foundation. You can use
freely the other aspects of this page subject to the normal terms for using this website, briefly
summarised at the foot of this page.
elisabeth kübler-ross - five stages of grief
Also known as the 'grief cycle', it is important to bear in mind that Kübler-Ross did not intend
this to be a rigid series of sequential or uniformly timed steps. It'snot a process as such, it's a
model or a framework. There is a subtle difference: a process implies something quite fixed
and consistent; a model is less specific - more of a shape or guide. By way of example, people
do not always experience all of the five 'grief cycle' stages. Some stages might be revisited.
Some stages might not be experiencedat all. Transition between stages can be more of an ebb
and flow, rather than a progression. The five stages are not linear; neither are they equal in their
experience. People's grief, and other reactions to emotional trauma, are as individual as a
In this sense you might wonder what the purpose of the model is if it can vary so much from
person to person. An answer is that the model acknowledges there to be an individual pattern of
reactive emotional responses which peop feel when coming to terms with death,
bereavement, and great loss or trauma, etc. The model recognises that people have to pass
through their own individual journey of coming to terms with death and bereavement, etc.,
after which there is generally an acceptance of reality, which then enables the person to cope.
The model is perhaps a way of explaining how and why 'time heals', or how 'life goes on'. And
as with any aspect of our own or other people's emotions, when we know more about what is
happening, then dealing with it is usually made a little easier.
Again, while Kübler-Ross's focus was on death and bereavement, the grief cycle model is a
useful perspective for understanding our own and other people's emotional reaction to personal
trauma and change, irrespective of cause.
five stages of grief - elisabeth kübler ross
EKR stage Interpretation
Denial is a conscious or unconscious refusal to
accept facts, information, reality, etc., relating
to the situation concerned. It's a defence
mechanism and perfectly natural. Some people
1 - Denial
can become locked in this stage when dealing
with a traumatic change that can be ignored.
Death of course is not particularly easy to avoid
or evade indefinitely.
Anger can manifest in different ways. People
dealing with emotional upset can be angry with
themselves, and/or with others, especially
2 - Anger those close to them. Knowing this helps keep
detached and non-judgemental when
experiencing the anger of someone who is very
3 - Bargaining
Traditionally the bargaining stage for people
facing death can involve attempting to bargain
with whatever God the person believes in.
People facing less serious trauma can bargain
or seek to negotiate a compromise. For
example quot;Can we still be friends?..quot; when
facing a break-up. Bargaining rarely provides a
sustainable solution, especially if it's a matter of
life or death.
Also referred to as preparatory grieving. In a
way it's the dress rehearsal or the practice run
for the 'aftermath' although this stage means
4 - Depression different things depending on whom it involves.
It's a sort of acceptance with emotional
attachment. It's natural to feel sadness and
regret, fear, uncertainty, etc. It shows that the
person has at least begun to accept the reality.
Again this stage definitely varies according to
the person's situation, although broadly it is an
indication that there is some emotional
detachment and objectivity. People dying can
5 - Acceptance
enter this stage a long time before the people
they leave behind, who must necessarily pass
through their own individual stages of dealing
with the grief.
(Based on the Grief Cycle model first published in On Death & Dying, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross,
1969. Interpretation by Alan Chapman 2006-08.)
elisabeth kübler-ross short biography
Dr Elisabeth Kübler-Ross was born in Zurich, Switzerland, on July 8, 1926. She was one of
triplet sisters. Kübler-Ross studied medicine against her father's wishes, at Zurich, later settling
in the US in 1958 and becoming a US citizen in 1961.
Her experiences at the end of the Second World War, including the aftermath of the Majdanek
(Maidanek) concentration camp at Lublink (now Ukraine) as a member of the International
Voluntary Service for Peace, reinforced her destiny to focus on the humanistic perspective of
death and dying. According to some accounts the young Elisabeth's childhood treatment by her
father was very harsh, which might explain additionally how she became so intensely
concerned for people's worst suffering.
Her seminal book On Death & Dying was published in 1969, in which she explained the
process of dying in which she first described hernow classically regarded Five Stages of Grief.
The book, and the supporting publication of her ideas in Time magazine, achieved wide
circulation, so that Elisabeth Kübler-Ross soon became known for her pioneering work with
the terminally ill, and for her ideas in the counselling and support of those affected by death
Kübler-Ross spent much of the 1970's running workshops and speaking to audiences abou hert
ideas, which quickly gained popular appeal and general acceptance among the caring
professions, and which had significant positive influence over the development of hospice care
and attitudes towards death and the care of the dying.
In the 1980's Kübler-Ross turned herattention to the plight of babies born with AIDS, and also
founded a healing and workshop centre which she called Healing Waters, on a 300-acre farm in
Kübler-Ross's work has not always beenuniversally applauded. Detractors tend to focus on the
'vagueness' of the grief cycle model (which reminds us ofthe need to appreciate it as a guide,
rather than a rigid process), and her interest in the after-life linked to near-death experiences
also attracted mixed response, as one might expect given her iconic status, and the
understandable scientific caution of much of her audience.
Whatever, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross was a remarkable woman who carved out unique reputation
in her field - indeed she arguably defined the field it elf.
Later in her life she suffered personal tragedy: a fire destroyed her Virginia home, and a series
of strokes left her in ill health. She moved to Scottsdale Arizona and retired soon afterwards in
Other critically admired works include Living with Death and Dying (1981) and On Life After
Death (1991) which are among more than 20 books that Kübler-Ross wrote or co-authored on
subjects related to death and grieving, and caring for those affected by bereavement.
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross died on 24 Augu 2004. The Elisabeth Kübler-Ross Foundation (EKR
Foundation) was formed in to keep Elisabeth's spirit alive. The EKR Foundation seeks to
continue Elisabeth's life work through the education of bereavementcarers, and to promote and
enable the compassionate support of families affected by death across the world.
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross was induc into the The National Women's Hall of Fame in 2007, a
national nonprofit organization that annually recognizes the contributions to civilization of
American women in a variety of disciplines.
quot;It's only when we truly know and understand that we have a limited time on earth - and that
we have no way of knowing when our time is up, we will then begin to live each day to the
fullest, as if it was the only one we had.quot;
(Dr Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, 1926-2004, psychiatrist, humanitarian, teacher, author, and pioneer
of bereavement and hospice care. Used with permission, with thanks to www.ekrfoundation.org
This quote is available with many other inspirational sayings on the posters section.
For more ideas, materials and theories relating to personal and emotional change,and finding
strength and inspiration, see also:
Do Not Stand At My Grave And Weep
Inspirational and Amusing Quotes - it's good to have some light relief after a page like this..
John Fisher's Transition Curve - another wonderful perspective of emotional change
Stress and Stress Management
Don Miguel Ruiz's The Four Agreements
Cherie Carter Scott - If Life is a Game
Ethical Leadership and Social Responsibility
Love and Spirituality at Work
Katherine Benziger's Thinking and Working Styles Theory
Maslow Hierarchy of Needs
Personality Styles Models
and the various related models, theories and materials on the main businessballs website, if you
are not already there
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