The Therapeutic Action of Grief and Mourning: A Psychoanalytic Understanding of Grieving the Loss of God

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While many authors have written about how one's representation of God develops, authors have not offered a specific description of the clinical process that brings about change in one's God representation. This paper explores one theoretical understanding of changing one's representation of God in the clinical setting. It is through the process of grief and mourning, characterized by attempted destruction and protest, that clients' previous God representations are transformed. To facilitate this process, therapists must be able to understand, respect, and recognize the individual's belief in God while guiding them through the process of mourning. Specifically, this mourning process consists of a period of destruction, outlined by D. W. Winnicott (1971), that consists of anger and protest towards the object. This paper argues that it is through this Winnicottian process of destruction that the individual can accomplish a successful process of mourning one's God representation, and in so doing, gain a more whole representation. This paper summarizes prominent psychoanalytic understandings of mourning, synthesizes common understandings of the formation of God representations in psychoanalysis, and finally describes the process of grieving one's previously held God representation in psychoanalytic psychotherapy. Lastly, this paper illustrates the therapist's role in this mourning process through application to a clinical case.

Degree Name

Doctor of Psychology in Clinical Psychology (PsyD)

First Advisor

Strawn, Brad D.

Document Type





Grief, Psychoanalysis, Spirituality, Psychotherapy, Theophanies




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