June Author of the Month: George Hagman

George Hagman, editor of New Models of Bereavement Theory and Treatment, is our Routledge Mental Health Author of the Month for June! Read our exclusive interview and learn more about his fantastic new book!

“The standard misunderstanding about mourning is that we must give up our relationship to those we have lost. I would like the reader to know that it is often the preservation of the tie to the dead, and the enrichment of the meaning that he or she gave to our lives, which is central to bereavement and mourning.”

New Models of Bereavement Theory and Treatment: New Mourning is a contribution to the sea of change that has occurred in our culture’s view of bereavement and mourning. Across disciplines, clinicians and researchers have questioned many of the assumptions that have influenced our conceptualizations about mourning over the past century. In this book, my fellow contributors and I examine recent developments in the understanding of bereavement, mourning and grief. We propose changes in the standard model of mourning that are highly compatible with contemporary psychoanalytic theory and practice.

New Models of Bereavement Theory and Treatment: New Mourning is a comprehensive critique of traditional theories and treatments of bereavement, mourning and grief. For over a century, psychoanalysis has held to a number of assumptions regarding the normal mourning process, and notions of pathological mourning have been tied to distortions and/or failures in these areas. The following are several of the most important misunderstandings: that there is an identifiable, normal psychological mourning process; that the function of mourning is a conservative and restorative one, rather than transformative; that mourning is a private, intrapsychic process, rather than social and relational; that the affect of grief arises spontaneously from within the individual, and denial or suppression of grief leads to pathological states; that mourning has normal, standardized characteristics (phases and tasks) rather than being unique and personal; that mourning is painful and sad, rather than involving a range of affects; and most importantly that the central task of mourning is detachment (decathexis), rather than continuity. Although some people might experience aspects of these old assumptions, we have found that they do not reliably capture the rich diversity of mourning.

In New Models of Bereavement Theory and Treatment my contributors and I argue against the assumptions of the standard model of mourning, offering a new definition that I summarize in the concluding chapter. This new definition of mourning, which I call New Mourning, refers to a varied and diverse psychological response to the loss of an important other. Mourning involve the transformation of the meanings and affects associated with one’s relationship to the lost person the goal of which is to permit one’s survival without the other while at the same time insuring a continuing experience of relationship with the deceased. The work of mourning is rarely done in isolation and may involve active engagement with fellow mourners and other survivors. An important aspect of mourning is the experience of disruption in self-organization due to the loss of the function of the relationship with the other in sustaining self-experience. Thus mourning involves a reorganization of the survivor’s sense of self as a key function of the process. Finally, and most importantly, I assert that there is rarely a full resolution to mourning. Healthy, normal mourning after bereavement often involves an on-going and vital sense of loss, even painful longing, which can accompany us throughout life. Ultimately each of us responds to bereavement in our own way, and our experience must be understood and respected for who we are, not according to some standard of normalcy.

I have had much bereavement in my life and recognized that my experience was not consistent with the standard view of mourning. In addition in my clinical psychoanalytic practice I encountered many bereaved patients who mourned in unique and very personal ways. Eventually I realized that the standard assumptions about bereavement and mourning might be incorrect.  In fact I discovered in the psychological literature outside psychoanalysis that there were many researchers and clinicians making the same discovery.  So after much writing and research I decided to put together a book of innovative psychoanalysts studying bereavement, and make available to readers the most up-to-date overview of psychoanalytic mourning theory available.

I hope that the reader takes away a greater appreciation for the diversity of bereavement experiences and the varied and highly personal ways that people mourn. This does not mean that there isn’t consistency, especially within a culture, but even so we need to be open to and have respect for each person’s unique experience.

Mourning is not just about pain and loss, but love - preserving our relationships with those we have lost, and making our lives richer and more meaningful. Rather than promoting a view of what is normal, we should celebrate the diversity and passion of mourning and grief. We as a society are too eager to put an end to it, impatient with people who continue in their sadness, urging them to “move on” and “get over it”. I hope my book opens the readers' eyes, and their hearts, to the creative, generative process of mourning. Bereavement is painful, but it is also an opportunity for personal and social growth – it can’t be rushed, or, heaven forbid, discouraged.

The standard misunderstanding about mourning was that we must give up our relationship to those we have lost. Many people who remained loyal to, or perhaps even treasured, their relationships with deceased loved ones, were considered mentally ill, or at least stuck, resisting the expected process of detachment. I would like the reader to know that it is often the preservation of the tie to the dead, and the enrichment of the meaning that he or she gave to our lives, which is central to bereavement and mourning.

I am a clinical social worker and psychoanalyst in private practice in New York and Stamford, Connecticut. And I am on the faculty of the Training and Research Institute for Self Psychology, and the Westchester Center for the Study of Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy. I have authored several books: Aesthetic Experience: Beauty, Creativity and the Search for the Ideal, Rodopi (2006), The Artist’s Mind: Psychoanalytic Perspectives on Art. Modern Artists and Modern Art, Routledge (2010) and Creative Analysis: Art, Creativity and Clinical Process, Routledge (2015). In April of this year (2016), my book titled New Models of Bereavement Theory and Treatment: New Mourning was published by Routledge.

New Models of Bereavement Theory and Treatment

  • New Models of Bereavement Theory and Treatment

    New Mourning

    Edited by George Hagman

    Honoring the centennial of Sigmund Freud’s seminal paper Mourning and Melancholia, New Models of Bereavement Theory and Treatment: New Mourning is a major contribution to our culture’s changing view of bereavement and mourning, identifying flaws in old models and offering a new, valid and effective…

    Paperback – 2016-04-21

Other Books by George Hagman

  • Creative Analysis

    Art, creativity and clinical process

    By George Hagman

    Creative Analysis: Art, Creativity and Clinical Process explores the dynamics of creativity in psychoanalytic treatment. It argues that the creative process of the analytic interaction is characterized by specific forms of feeling, thinking and most importantly, relating that result in the…

    Paperback – 2014-11-27
    Psychoanalytic Inquiry Book Series

  • The Artist's Mind

    A Psychoanalytic Perspective on Creativity, Modern Art and Modern Artists

    By George Hagman

    For the past century psychoanalysts have attempted to understand the psychology of art, artists and aesthetic experience. This book examines how contemporary psychoanalytic theory provides insight into understanding the psychological sources of creativity, Modern Art and modern artists. The Artist…

    Paperback – 2010-06-11