A person working through the different stages of grief may unpredictably bounce around from one stage to another, popping back and forth between emotions such as shock, anger or depression.
This process can be compared to the workings of a pinball machine, said the researchers of a new study published in the Mental Health Practice journal.
Margaret Baier, Ph.D., of Baylor University and Ruth Buechsel, Psy.D., of Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas, explain that researchers are not trying to portray the stages of grief as a game or downplay the experience, but that the comparison can help people understand that grieving is not a linear process.
Similar to a pinball machine, there are triggers which can extend or even restart the grieving process. For example, a trigger could be the anniversary of a death or a special event that a grieving person once shared with their deceased loved one.
This pinball model can be used by healthcare professionals during therapy to show grieving people that their emotions are normal. It may also be adaptable to help those suffering through a separation, divorce, loss of employment or financial loss, said the researchers.
In the literature, the authors highlight various models and factors considered helpful with coping and adjusting during bereavement. However, they add, many of the models are misinterpreted as linear.
Patients suffering through the death of a loved one often report feeling as though they are “bouncing” from one stage to another, which elicited the image of a pinball.
The researchers say their model illustrates the grieving process in a way that helps bereaved people see and understand the emotional process they are experiencing, which in turn helps them normalize and move through the grieving experience.
This normalization may help people relax and better process grief, while offering them a sense of assurance in a seemingly chaotic time. It also helps them be prepared when grief is triggered by other events or prolonged, as in the process of complicated grief.
Source: Mental Health Practice