Cultural Processes in Psychotherapy for Perinatal Loss: Breaking the Cultural Taboo Against Perinatal Grief

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Abstract

This paper argues that there is a cultural taboo against the public recognition and expression of perinatal grief that hinders parents’ ability to mourn and their psychological adjustment following a loss. It is proposed that this cultural taboo is recreated within the therapy relationship, as feelings of grief over a perinatal loss are minimized or avoided by the therapist and parent or patient. Importantly, it is suggested that if these cultural dynamics are recognized within the therapy relationship, then psychotherapy has the immense opportunity to break the taboo by validating the parent’s loss as real and helping the parent to mourn within an empathic and affect-regulating relationship. Specifically, it is suggested that therapists break the cultural taboo against perinatal grief and help parents to mourn through: acknowledging and not pathologizing perinatal grief reactions, considering intrapsychic and cultural factors that impact a parent’s response to loss, exploring cultural reenactments within the therapy relationship, empathizing with the parent’s experience of loss and of having to grieve within a society that does not recognize perinatal loss, coregulating the parent’s feelings of grief and loss, and helping patients to create personally meaningful mourning rituals. Lastly, the impact of within and between cultural differences and therapist attitudes on the therapy process is discussed.

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