So many things happened during the course of the year hard on the heels of each other that Chris really didn’t have time to feel that he had dealt with one situation before another presented itself to him.

He had experienced a number of losses during the course of the year and had helped to help others to cope with their losses when he heard of his business partner’s death.

This took things to a new level.



During the First World War Freud wrote his seminal paper ‘Mourning and Melancholia’ [1].

In this he explored the characteristics and process of mourning, grieving after a death or other loss and the additional aspect of guilt and self-reproach in depressive illness.

His view was that the experience of grief is normal and not pathological: profoundly painful dejection, cessation of interest in the outside world, loss of the capacity to love, and inhibition of all activity.

In addition to these characteristics, he noted that when someone is suffering from depression (or ‘melancholia’), this will be supplemented by ‘a lowering of self-regarding feelings to a degree that finds utterance in self-reproaches and self-revilings, and culminates in a delusional expectation of punishment’.

When Chris’s business partner died he felt this to be ‘like an amputation’.

As if a part of himself was missing.

He also felt unaccountably and generally anxious and guilty, although he could not identify why.

He later realised that these were aspects of a presentation of clinical depression.

There needed to be no logic behind them.

C. S. Lewis, when writing after the death of his wife said, ‘No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear’ [2].



Writing 30 years after Freud, Kurt Lewin, father of social psychology, speculated about the process of change in a complex paper relating to group dynamics.

Now popularised in the three-phase process of change (unfreezing, changing, and refreezing), Lewin proposed that the process of change involved three steps, in his words “unfreezing, moving and freezing of group standards” [3].

When change occurs in a group setting the group:

(1) experiences a form of catharsis which is necessary before prejudices can be reduced, and existing ways of working and values are questioned and unfrozen. The group can then

(2) move and changes can be introduced and new ways of working experimented with. The process of change will then be

(3) frozen when new ways become embedded and settled within new organisational values which support the new state of affairs. 

Although he had little choice in the process, Chris’s relatively routine and organised way of dealing with his working life was gradually ‘unfrozen’ during the course of the year, significant ‘movement’ and change was forced on him, and his experiences and new ways of working (and in particular thinking about himself and his working environment), were gradually ‘refrozen’ during the course of and after his counselling.



In the late 1960s Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, a psychiatrist working with terminally ill patients in Chicago, noticed that in different ways and in varying degrees they grappled with impending death by going through a number of identifiable stages [4]. 

These have become over-simplified in popular psychology.

The stages do not follow neatly and sequentially, and come and go.

They are likely to overlap and interact.

Kubler-Ross identified the states as denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

As someone who is approaching death or has suffered a recent loss searches for meaning in the experience they will experience a chaotic path through the process, or possibly become stuck at one of the stages.

As the initial paralysis and shock at hearing bad news subsides, a person may try to avoid the inevitable and unconsciously deny the reality of what is happening.

Frustrations and anger at the situation can then be discharged at anyone nearby.

Bargaining than follows where the individual tussles with accepting or to denying the reality of what is happening.

When acceptance begins to take root, mourning or depression can then follow. Sadness is accepted and experienced.

Testing and seeking realistic alternatives can then follow and gradually, in a healthy mourning process, an acceptance of a new way of living can follow; a way of living with the loss, not denying it.


Loss is part of life.

Most of us will experience painful bereavement at some time.

Through his therapy, Chris was able gradually to realise that much of his anger was bottled up and directed at himself.

It helped him to identify and unpick many of the tightly knotted strands of intra-personal, inter-personal and circumstantial factors which tipped him into depression.

Although uncomfortable at times, he was able to mourn his way to a greater acceptance of things he could not change …




[1] Freud, S. (1917) Mourning and Melancholia, Standard Edition Volume 14. (pp.243-258). London: Hogarth Press.

[2] Lewis, C. S. (1961) A Grief Observed. London: Faber and Faber (p. 5).

[3] Lewin, K. (1947) Frontiers in Group Dynamics: Concept, Method and Reality in Social Science; Social Equilibria and Social Change, Human Relations, 1, 5-41.

[4] Kubler-Ross, E. (1969) On Death and Dying. London: Tavistock.


(This is an edited excerpt from my book A Lawyer’s Guide to Wellbeing and Managing Stress published by ARK Group in 2015.)

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