Today we want to fill you in on the Two-Track Model of Bereavement. Why, you ask? Because we love talking about grief theory! Why, you [emphatically] ask again? Because we believe that grief theory isn’t just for grief counselors, therapists, and researchers. We believe that understanding a little bit about grief theory is really helpful for everyone grieving because it can help you understand a little more about yourself. That doesn’t mean we think every grief theory is right (we don’t) or that every theory will resonate with you (they won’t). We do think most grief theories have something interesting and insightful to offer. We also know that, whether they resonate with you or not, thinking about these theories often gets people thinking about and reflecting on grief in new and different ways. And that’s a good thing!
The Story of The Two-Track Model of Bereavement
Once upon a time, long long ago (in the late 1970s/early 1980s) there was a grief researcher named Simon Shimshon Rubin. Today Rubin is a Professor of Clinical Psychology, the Director of the International Center for the Study of Loss, Bereavement, and Human Resilience, and Chairman of Postgraduate Program in Psychotherapy at the University of Haifa. But back then he was a mere student, finishing up his PhD, locked in the towers of academia. He spent his days toiling away on his dissertation, researching mothers who had lost children to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
Rubin, the young, grief-researching protagonist of this story, read the works of the many great grief theorists who came before him. Though he found and read many wonderful studies and theories, he felt a bit unsettled. Something about the research and theories he read felt a bit disjointed to him. Rubin began to notice that those writing about and researching grief seemed to fall into two categories. One category seemed to be looking exclusively at the bereaved person’s separation from the person who died as the biggest factor in grief (this may ring some bells if you have ever heard of a guy named Sigmund Freud). For this group, looking at the relationship with, bond to, and separation from the person who died was the key to understanding how someone was ‘managing’ their grief.
Rubin noticed the other researchers and clinicians were having an entirely different conversation about grief. They were busy focusing on how people functioned in the world after a death. They looked at very practical functioning: was the grieving person managing at work? Were they maintaining relationships with friends and family? Did they care about other areas of life? This group of researchers thought of grief as a significant life stressor and functioning was the key to measuring how someone was adapting to that stressor. In his 2013 book, Working With The Bereaved: Multiple Lenses on Loss and Mourning, Rubin describes this saying:
“Researchers and clinicians associated with understanding life change and stress were relatively unconcerned with the significance of the bond to the deceased and its meaning for recovery from loss. Instead, the extent of change and difficulty following loss were assessed in their own right, relatively devoid of context. Measuring the various components of day-to-day functioning following loss was part of the mapping of the response to a particular category of stressful events. Although it was possible to estimate the extent to which the bereaved continued to suffer the after effects of the stress of bereavement in their various life activities, little thought was given to the relational component of the experience (van der Kolk, McFarlane, & Weisaeth, 1996)” (Rubin, Malkinsom, Witzum, 2013)
Rubin understood why this focus on function was getting a lot of attention, but he thought it was overlooking a big, important piece of the puzzle: that relational component the first group had been so focused on.
So Rubin read, and researched, and read, and researched more, being careful to keep both the functioning piece and the relational piece in mind when studying those grieving. Though this might seem pretty obvious, at the time he was the first to explicitly bring these two lenses together. He felt confident looking through both of those lenses would give a more comprehensive understanding of grief. In 1981 he named his approach: The Two-Track Model of Bereavement.
Understanding The Two-Track Model of Bereavement
Rubin explained his theory by giving guidance on how to consider each “track”. In Track I, Rubin said it was important to consider biopsychosocial functioning. He gave some specific ideas about what to look at and measure to get a sense of how someone is functioning after a loss (you can see some of these ideas in the infographic below). Track II, he explained, should look at memories, feelings, attachments and bonds to the person who died as an important part of grief. He explained ways this relationship could have positive or negative impacts on the person grieving (you can see some of those ideas in the infographic below too!). Rubin described each track as a “multidimensional axis” and explained that researchers, clinicians, and people who were grieving themselves could benefit from this approach.
Fast forward to the present. Rubin’s tracks give framework to examine your own life and grief, considering your Track I ‘functioning’ and your Track II ‘relationship’ with the person you have lost. It can help you to assess areas of your life that are being negatively impacted by your grief, areas where you have grown and adapted, areas you want to seek support. It can help you become more aware of your relationship with your loved one who died, aware of how it has changed or how it may change, etc. It may help you to consider whether you want to get some professional support if there are areas on either track that just aren’t changing or improving in the way you want.
The image below shows some of the considerations Rubin outlined in each track. If you want to learn more about The Two-Track Model of Bereavement, as well as the many grief research studies that have been done by Rubin and his colleagues, there is a lot more out there to learn! You can check out this article or their book.
So . . . what do you think? Helpful? Not helpful? Do you love it? Do you hate it? Do you just not care one way or the other? Whatever you think, let us know by leaving a comment below. If you are interested in checking out our many other posts of grief theory, click here for a bunch of other grief theory articles. Or check out our upcoming navigating grief course, which has a unit on theory!