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Psychopathology of Children after the Loss of a Parent - Essay Example

6 pages
1451 words
Vanderbilt University
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Every day, in the United States as well as around the world, some children experience the death of a parent. Those children go through a grieving process, yet continue to grow and mature. The question of whether they mature in a psychologically healthy way is of great importance. Psychopathology during childhood can lead to the development of various psychopathologies as the child matures. This essay will discuss how the loss of a parent affects the child and the different psychological interventions that can be used to help the children overcome the psychopathologies such as the use of complicated grief therapy (Mash, 2006, p.28).

The grief work perspective is important while dealing with a child who has lost the parents. To help the child to achieve the state of acceptance, the child should be assisted to work through the pain since depression and distress are inevitable. According to the attachment theory there exist three phases of separation that is despair, protest, and final detachment. The main concept that is stipulated in this theory is that attachments should be considered necessary in the life of a person. The attachment that a child has during childhood tend to affect his/her adulthood. The attachment could affect the individual physically, psychologically or emotionally. For example, when a child loses the parents he turns out to have an insecure attachment towards the other individuals who start taking care of him. When this child becomes an adult, and he loses another parent or authority figure they may experience unhealthy grieving due to his childhood lose. However, in the situation whereby a person had a healthy attachment to the mother when he was a child, he will be able to grieve normally. The quality of the child's attachment will directly affect how successful they will be able to have separation during childhood and in adulthood. (Stroebe & Stroebe, 2007, p.39)

There is a need to understand the importance that a parent has in the life of a child. After the loss of the parent, children tend to suffer from a separation anxiety disorder which could result in mental illness in the future when the child becomes an adult (Lewinsohn et al. 2008). According to Bowlby, 2008 the mental health of children is in the hands of the parents. The loss of the parents makes the children have an inbuilt fear and have a fear of facing the challenges that they may encounter. Death results in the breakdown of the attachment that was existing between a child and the parents. It makes the child be depressed and undergo a phase of grief (Bowlby, 2008, p.68).The loss of the parents greatly affects the education of the children since they can become mentally challenged making it hard for them to continue with their studies. The children can pose harm to the society since they can turn into acts of violence and crime as a result of frustration.

The loss of the parents affects the child since they undergo a phase of complicated grief. They are never ready to accept the reality that they will never see the person again. It affects the child significantly since he/she is never in a position of participating in normal activities and as well as triggers the child's emotions and thoughts.

Complicated grief therapy refers to the combination of IPT, motivational interviewing and Cognitive Behavior Therapy. The use of cognitive behavioral therapies is of great importance in the treatment of different childhood disorders. Some of the types of treatments used include family-focused therapy, community-focused therapy, home school programs and parent training (Mash, Barkley, 2006, p.27). The therapy addresses issues that are related to complicated grief. The therapist can combine the CBT with a different therapy such as the family therapy, use of school interventions methods, implement teaching strategies that will be beneficial to the child. During the administering of the various treatments on the child suffering from the grief the therapist is supposed to follow a given procedure. When handling a child who is suffering from the problem of anxiety the therapist can use methods such as giving the child rewards for every improvement that is noted and also various exposure strategies such as ensuring that the child plays with other children and telling the death story more. In the case where the child is suffering from depression, an interpersonal therapy can be carried out. When the child is subjected to a period of successful mourning, he/she tends to move from a stage of acute grief to a stage of integrated grief. During this stage, the child tends to acknowledge the loss of the parent and in turn helps to solve resolving the trauma problem that was associated with the loss and emotions of the child turns to be more positive.

The Complicated grief therapy is beneficial to the child as it helps him /her to build relationships with other people and also encourage them to get involved in activities that are enjoyable. Through these activities, the therapist helps the child to forget about the grief of losing the parent and be in a position of creating memories that are positive. Through the use of the complicated grief the therapy the therapists tends to mostly focus on grief and as well as loss in every session. This method brings the grief front and center during the treatment process. The complicated grief therapy enables the child to be in a position of discovering their values and also building of broken relationships with other people in the society. The complicated grief therapists are required to be supportive and also be a good listener so as not to miss out on important details that could be affecting the child creating a barrier in the recovery process of the child.

According to Mash, 2006 therapists have typically emphasized the importance of helping children and families to be in a position of dealing with the thoughts that turn out to be depressing to enhance behavior change. During the process of therapy, the thoughts of the child tend to be altered. The use of complicated grief therapy helps in decreasing risk of psychopathologies in children who have lost a parent. The death of a parent can cause mental unhealthiness of the child. Children suffering from the psychopathologies require to undergo the therapy process early enough before the problem causes more harm to their health since early evaluation, treatment and identification are of great importance in helping the child to recover from such trauma of losing the parents.

The other method that can be used to help a child who has lost the parents and is undergoing a period of grief is through the application of the Cognitive stress theory. The theory is mostly applicable in situations whereby the difficulty of the loss is subjective to each. According to the cognitive stress, theory avoidance can be used to help an individual during the grieving process instead of avoidance being maladaptive. The therapist can also use the dual process model of coping with grief. The process has two main categories that are the restoration orientation and the loss orientation. Loss orientation helps the child to be in a position of coping with the loss of the parent. For example, when the child starts to cry, yearn and lament about the loss of the parent. On the other hand, the restoration orientation is when the child begins to pay attention to all of their stressors that are indirectly involving their loved one who has passed away. This theoretical framework needs the therapist to understand to what extent the child is grieving and their experience regarding the situation. The dual model framework should include health care workers who are working with people who are also experiencing the death of a loved one.

In conclusion, the loss of the parents greatly affects a child psychologically. Various interventions should be undertaken on time to help the child overcome the grief. A child could suffer from a complicated grief when they have intense memories and thoughts about their parent or loved one who has died in a manner that tends to affect their life and daily activities beyond a point that could be considered as being reasonable. The loss of the parents results in the child suffering from depression or mental disorder. Various interventions such as complicated grief therapy can help the child to overcome such problems. The therapist can also use the cognitive behavior method to help the child overcome the grief that they may be going through.


Mash, E.J. (Ed), Barkley, R.A. (Ed). (2006). Treatment of Childhood Disorders, Third Edition. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.

Stroebe, M., Schut, H., & Stroebe, W. (2007). Health outcomes of bereavement. The Lancet, 370, 1960-1973

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