Psychology Bereavement and Grief
Kathrin Boerner
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 August 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 November 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199828340-0011


The field of bereavement and grief focuses on the human experience of loss in response to the death of a loved one. The term bereavement refers to the objective status of a person who has suffered the loss of someone significant. Grief, on the other hand, refers to the emotional experience of the psychological, behavioral, social, and physical reactions to one’s loss (see the first chapter of Stroebe, et al. 2008, cited in General Overviews). Early writings on bereavement and grief were guided heavily by the psychoanalytic traditions. They were based on clinical observation and a very limited empirical database. The focus was on the intense distress people are thought to experience following the death of a loved one, and on the need to work through this distress in order to recover from the loss and be able to move on with one’s life. For a long time, popular and professional ways of thinking about bereavement were strongly influenced by this literature, without having been put to any serious empirical test. Over the past few decades, however, the field has developed into a scientific discipline with high methodological standards and an accumulating number of sound empirical studies, which have greatly contributed to our current understanding of grief. One of the most groundbreaking findings from this research is probably the pervasive insight that there is extraordinary variability in how people react to the death of a loved one. While some people are devastated and never again seem to regain their emotional equilibrium, others emerge from the loss relatively unscathed and perhaps even strengthened. An important focus of current bereavement research is to better understand this variability in response to bereavement, to find ways of identifying those who are at risk for developing long-term difficulties following the death of a loved one, and to provide them with the appropriate support or treatment. The first section of this bibliography introduces general overviews of the field of bereavement, including three influential handbooks of bereavement research that appeared in the literature between 1993 and 2008. This is followed by a section on journals that primarily focus on bereavement issues. The remaining sections examine specific areas and perspectives in the field of bereavement in more detail. This selective review highlights works pertaining to what are to date considered traditional views on grief, followed by a description of current theoretical models and thinking. Next, research areas in which a striking increase in knowledge has occurred (i.e., grief trajectories, caregiving and bereavement, continuing bonds, risk factors, and complicated grief) receive particular attention. This is followed by a selective review of literature with a focus on specific relationship perspectives in terms of who died (i.e., loss of spouse, child, parent, or sibling), as well as sections dedicated to often unacknowledged bereavement situations, referred to as “disenfranchised grief,” and different cultural perspectives on grief. The bibliography concludes with coverage of discussions about supportive interventions in the context of bereavement.

General Overviews

The field of bereavement has grown tremendously over the past three decades. The three handbooks of bereavement research published between 1993 and 2008—Strobe, et al. 1993, Strobe, et al. 2001, and Stroebe, et al. 2008—provide a comprehensive account of past and new developments in the literature. Although each of these handbooks offers a general overview of the field in a particular time period, it is worthwhile to consider them separately, because the selection of chapters and focus areas in each is unique. Much of the research and conceptual discussions reported in the handbooks were influenced by Wortman and Silver 1989, which can be considered a classic in the field. Wortman and Boerner 2011 gives a comprehensive account of research evidence on coping with loss that has been accumulated since the original identification of the “myths.” Bonanno 2009 targets a broader audience and offers not only an up-to-date summary of available research evidence but also uniquely new perspectives on life after loss. Finally, addressing yet another type of audience with interest in grief and bereavement, the Handbook of Thanatology (Balk, et al. 2007) provides a useful introductory resource for professionals in thanatology research and practice as well as in death education.

  • Balk, David E., Carol Wogrin, Gordon Thornton, and David K. Meagher, eds. 2007. Handbook of thanatology: The essential body of knowledge for the study of death, dying, and bereavement. London: Routledge.

    This handbook, copublished by the Association for Death Education and Counseling (ADEC), is a helpful resource for professionals in thanatology research and practice and death education. It provides good introductions into core areas of the field, and points the reader to additional useful resources.

  • Bonanno, George A. 2009. The other side of sadness: What the new science of bereavement tells us about life after loss. New York: Basic Books.

    This excellent book uses a combination of rigorous research and compelling cases examples to share the most up-to-date insights about the grieving process with a broader audience.

  • Stroebe, Margaret S., Robert O. Hansson, Henk Schut, and Wolfgang Stroebe, eds. 2001. Handbook of bereavement research: Consequences, coping, and care. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association Press.

    DOI: 10.1037/10436-000

    This handbook provides an updated overview of the literature up to early 2000. In addition, there are extensive sections on methodological and ethical issues, consequences of bereavement over the life span, and the role of coping in adaptation to loss.

  • Stroebe, Margaret S., Robert O. Hansson, Henk Schut, and Wolfgang Stroebe, eds. 2008. Handbook of bereavement research and practice: Advances in theory and intervention. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association Press.

    This handbook provides the most up-to-date overview, reflecting primary domains of growth and discussion in the field over the previous decade, such as issues involved in including a complicated grief diagnosis into the DSM-V, as well as aspects related to variability in patterns and consequences of grief.

  • Stroebe, Margaret S., Wolfgang Stroebe, and Robert O. Hansson, eds. 1993. Handbook of bereavement: Theory, research, and intervention. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511664076

    This first of a series of handbooks not only gives a general overview of the bereavement literature up to the early 1990s, it also includes particular focus areas that are unique to this edition, such as several chapters dedicated to physiological changes following bereavement.

  • Wortman, Camille B., and Kathrin Boerner. 2011. Reactions to the death of a loved one: Myths of coping versus scientific evidence. In The Oxford handbook of health psychology. Edited by Howard S. Friedman, 414–479. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    This comprehensive book chapter reviews the literature on bereavement with particular attention to major paradigm shifts that have occurred over the past few decades.

  • Wortman, Camille B., and Roxane C. Silver. 1989. The myths of coping with loss. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 57.3: 349–357.

    DOI: 10.1037/0022-006X.57.3.349

    This article was the first to question widely held basic assumptions about grief, to show that available research evidence does not necessarily support them, and to demand that these assumptions be more systematically investigated.

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