Loss and Bereavement: Perspectives, Theories, Challenges

Jeanne Quint Benoliel


Loss is a common experience in human existence. Major loss stimulates both personal and social responses, often of high intensity, as was observed throughout the world after the tragic accidental death of Princess Diana in 1997. Knowledge of loss and grief has been reflected in poetry, paintings, novels, myths, and plays across the centuries of recorded history. Understanding the complex influence of loss on human adaptations and collective responses has come about in the 20th century through scientific approaches to the creation of knowledge.
Historical Overview
Origins of Studies on Loss
The first systematic study on loss is credited to the psychoanalyst Freud (1957), who proposed that grief is a process in which loss is resolved through hypercathexis followed by gradual decathexis related to internalized bonds of attachment. Eliot identified the need for studies on family grief (1930) as well as for a social psychology of bereavement (1933). Lindemann's (1944) psychiatric study of acute-grief responses of survivors of a deadly nightclub fire served as a stimulus for the development of research and theory by investigators in many fields.

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