Adaptive Grieving Models for Social Workers

Coping with the loss of a loved one through death is a difficult experience that people must go through at some point in life, making the study of grieving models important. Shier and Graham (2011) posit that the social worker’s knowledge of the various ways different persons respond to grief is critical, as it helps in the formulation of a workable grief management plan. With a particular focus on the adaptive grieving model, it can be shown that social workers must incorporate self-care strategies when developing a plan to assist grieving persons, lest they find themselves trapped in grief as well.

In essence, different people respond differently to the loss of loved ones depending on personal, societal, and cultural factors. The adaptive grieving model includes several stages that define how individuals progress through the grieving process, although these stages are not necessarily organized in a lockstep manner (Zisook & Shear, 2013). The adaptive model is selected for this exercise because it is founded on the view that different people may adapt to various grieving approaches. Importantly, the model can be customized to suit grieving persons’ unique needs, as it is not founded on a rigid approach. As such, the adaptive model is highly recommended for social workers attending a diverse clientele base characterized by unique and varying grieving needs and expectations.

Social workers must have exemplary understanding and knowledge of the factors that affect different people’s grief approaches. According to Stroebe and Schut (1999), a thorough knowledge of the factors that influence grief responses enables social work counselors to develop a functional grieving process plan to help affected families in the hospice environment. Working as a social worker might require the adaptive model to help grieving individuals and families adapt and cope with the loss. Stroebe and Schut (2010) assert that the adaptive grieving model addresses the individual’s internal experiences and outward expressions. Affected people learn to handle situations when they find themselves falling back to specific bereavement stages. Hence, working as a social worker attending grieving families might require individual involvement of affected persons in the planning and execution of the grieving process plan.

Grieving models may not necessarily work or apply universally. Social workers must select applicable components of selected grieving models depending on prevailing conditions and circumstances. Regarding the adaptive model, challenges may arise due to the differences in people’s expressions of grief, which might make it difficult to establish the most effective plan for specific individuals. Essentially, social workers must anticipate difficulties with grieving individuals and families whose responses to bereavement are unpredictable (Shier & Graham, 2011). As such, social workers must be keen to identify behavioral manifestations of grief in their clients to design a customized bereavement management plan that meets the client’s needs.

Working with grieving persons entails attending to emotional needs that could be contentious, meaning social workers can easily find themselves overwhelmed by their clients’ emotional needs. Arising challenges in handling psychologically disturbed adults can be overwhelming enough to diminish social workers’ emotional, mental, and physical resources (Zastrow & Kirst-Ashman, 2019). Newell and MacNeil (2010) posit that professionals must develop self-care strategies for the certainty that they do not start grieving with their clients. Particularly, social workers must avoid circumstances that could lead to the establishment of close ties with grieving clients, especially if a close relationship with the deceased existed. These approaches help to maintain objectivity throughout the process of assisted grieving.

In overview, social workers can adopt different grieving models based on individual preferences and prevailing circumstances, such as the individual client’s needs. Using the adaptive model can help bereaved families to adapt to the loss of loved ones based on individual members’ responses to grief. This model is highly recommended because it is flexible for an easy adjustment based on individual clients’ needs. However, social workers must be keen to avoid becoming a party to the grieving process, as the adaptive model involves a close association between counselors and clients.


Newell, J. M., & MacNeil, G. A. (2010). Professional burnout, vicarious trauma, secondary traumatic stress, and compassion fatigue: A review of theoretical terms, risk factors, and preventive methods for clinicians and researchers. Best Practice in Mental Health, 6(2), 57–68.

Shier, M. L., & Graham, J. R. (2011). Mindfulness, subjective well-being, and social work: Insight into their interconnection from social work practitioners. Social Work Education, 30(1), 29–44.

Stroebe, M., & Schut, H. (1999). The dual-process model of coping with bereavement: Rationale and description. Death Studies, 23(3), 197–224.

Stroebe, M., & Schut, H. (2010). The dual process model of coping with bereavement: A decade on. Omega, 61(4), 273–289.

Zastrow, C. H., & Kirst-Ashman, K. K. (2019). Understanding human behavior and the social environment (11th ed.). Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.

Zisook, S., & Shear, M. K. (2013). Bereavement, depression, and the DSM-5. Psychiatric Annals, 43(6), 252–254. Web.

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PsychologyWriting. "Adaptive Grieving Models for Social Workers." September 12, 2023.