Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Many authors have expressed the opinion that the resolution of grief requires the open expression of the emotions accompanying grief. While this need for emotional discharge has been mentioned frequently, there has been no empirical evidence of a connection between emotional discharge and successful grief work. This study was designed to investigate the hypothesis that recently bereaved individuals who reported more emotional discharge behaviors would have a more positive resolution of their grief at four months post-bereavement. It was also hypothesized that the specific type of discharge behavior and the number of individuals involved would not be significant. However, it was predicted that in order for emotional expression to be helpful, it would require the aware attention of another individual. Thus discharge which occurred while the bereaved were alone was expected to have no significant contribution to outcome.

In the longitudinal portion of the study, recently bereaved individuals were asked to record discharge behaviors as defined by Jackins (1962). These behaviors were recorded on weekly forms which inquired about situations when the loss was discussed with other people and situations when the individual was alone and thought about the death. Each subject completed the Life Satisfaction Index and Outcome Self-Report Form at 1, 2, 3 and 4 months post-bereavement as an on-going measure of outcome. At the four month interval the Health Questionnaire and the Social Readjustment Rating Scale were also completed. An open-ended tape recorded interview was conducted to obtain additional information and obtain descriptions of events which had been most and least helpful, changes which had occurred in their feelings, and their reactions to the research project.

In the retrospective portion of the study, individuals who had been bereaved within the past year were asked to rate the degree to which they had displayed emotional discharge behaviors both in individual and interpersonal situations during the time intervals: from the death to 2 weeks, from 2 weeks to 3 months, from 3 months to 6 months, and from 6 months to 1 year. As in the longitudinal portion, the outcome measures were administered and an interview conducted.

Scores for total interpersonal discharge and total discharge while alone were calculated for all subjects. When subjects were dichotomized into high versus low dischargers and good versus poor outcome the Fisher test of exact probability indicated no significant relationship. When subjects were rank ordered on both dimensions a Spearman rank correlation indicated a negative nonsignificant relationship between the amount of emotional discharge reported and positive outcome. There were indications from stepwise forward multiple regression analysis that emotional discharge when alone was a significant predictor of negative outcome.

Consideration of individual case reports suggested that negative outcome was related to feelings of not having anyone with whom to discuss feelings of grief and disappointment in people that had been expected to be helpful. It also appeared that estimation of negative outcome was more valid at one year post-bereavement than at four months.

Methodological considerations and problems were discussed. Suggestions were made concerning the identification of individuals at risk for pathological grief reaction and possible interventions were suggested.