Title

An empirical study of college students' grief responses: Death vs. non-death losses

Date of Award

1996

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Counseling and Human Services

Advisor(s)

Alan Goldberg

Keywords

loss, Academic guidance counseling, Psychotherapy

Subject Categories

Clinical Psychology

Abstract

Non-death loss events are not typically recognized and acknowledged by others as grief producing despite intense physical, psychological and emotional consequences similar to those experienced with death loss events. This lack of recognition may impede grief resolution in that the grieving individual may not feel entitled to and subsequently, choose not to pursue informal support or formal counseling for their distress.

The present study was designed to examine how individuals differentiate their grief experiences in response to death and non-death loss events, and to determine how likely these individuals were to seek informal support or formal counseling.

Although many researchers have studied grief related to death losses for parents, children, spouses and aging adults, few have sought to study grief responses to non-death loss events in the college aged population. College students have been identified as an important population to study because developmentally, they are in a stage of their lives when they are confronted with a broad range of loss experiences and life transitions that have the potential to trigger intense physical and psychological symptoms similar to the grief that is experienced with death loss events.

Two hundred and forty-two undergraduate college students completed surveys assessing their emotional responses to eight hypothetical loss scenarios describing four death loss events and four non-death loss events. Participants reported the intensity of emotional distress, sense of loss and grief that they would expect to experience following these events, and whether they believed others would recognize and acknowledge their grief. Participants also reported whether they felt entitled to and would seek informal support or formal counseling for their distress.

The results of this study support the contention that grief responses to non-death loss events can result in distressing symptoms similar to those which are typically associated with death loss events. Furthermore, a lack of recognition of grief by others particularly in non-death loss events seems to predict a lower incidence of help seeking behaviors by college students.

The findings of this study have implications for mental health professionals and counselor educators: (i) to broaden their definition and conceptualization of grief and loss, (ii) to increase awareness of how non-death loss events may influence the physical and psychological functioning of college students, (iii) to incorporate grief counseling and other intervention strategies for disenfranchised grief and (iv) to develop outreach programs that educate students and provide validation for grief responses to non-death loss experiences. Suggestions for present and future research in this area are presented.

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